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4 Differences between a British and a Polish Christmas

20 grudnia 2018, czwartek,

Christmas time is fast approaching and it won’t be long before many of us will be joined with our families and participating in those traditions and customs linked with this particular holiday season.  As an expatriate living in Poland I am often asked: what are the main differences between a Polish Christmas and the traditions I celebrated as a young boy in Canada?  Well, as a traditional Canadian Christmas is practically the same as a British Christmas, we will use this blog to contrast the 4 main differences between the holidays in these two countries.Timing is Everything

The most fundamentally important difference is that the holidays themselves actually take place on different days! For Polish people the most important day is clearly Christmas Eve.  This is when the largest family dinner occurs with 12 different traditional dishes; when the presents are exchanged and the celebration of the Birth of Jesus is generally recognized.

In the UK, all of this happens the next day on December 25th – Christmas Day. There is a huge family dinner and lo and behold all of the Christmas presents were left under the tree during the night by good ole Saint Nick.

Christmas Eve for Brits is a quiet and uneventful evening with maybe a glass of wine in front of the telly and then off to bed nice and early.


There is a heavy emphasis on the number of dishes in Poland with  a need for there to be precisely 12 to represent the number of Apostles.  They also have to be meatless because it’s Christmas Eve which means – NO meat.

Brits do not traditionally abstain from meat on Christmas Eve but no matter- the main family dinner is the next day so there is most often a huge, full turkey on the table with gravy and stuffing and mashed potatoes.  The actual number of dishes is of no relevance whatsoever at the British table.

Here is a list of some of the other yummy treats that can be found in the British home at Christmas time!

  • Mince Pies– Small, biscuit-sized pastries filled with minced meat OR nuts and sweet flavourings such as cinnamon or sugar. Fun Fact: This treat was probably inspired by Middle Eastern Cuisine.
  • Gingerbread Stuff– Cookies, houses, little people figures and stars all made from gingerbread and well suited to milk or egg nog.
  • Christmas Pudding– Small dessert cakes made from figs or plums usually topped with a sprig of holly.
  • Candy Canes– These are small, minty, hard candies in the shape of a walking cane. They can be hung from the tree or given as treats to friends.

Christmas Songs

First we need to differentiate Christmas carols and Christmas songs.  The main distinction is that carols are always religious in nature and explicitly celebrate the birth of Christ. They are usually quite sombre and serious.

Christmas songs on the other hand are usually just lively and extremely catchy fun songs about the winter, traditions and spending fun times with the family.  Wham’s Last Christmas isn’t very sombre and serious, is it?

What is interesting to note is that until recently Poland had really no Christmas songs to speak of.  Only in the past few years have young artists exploited the Christmas season for some fun pop-like music.

Oplatki vs. Christmas Crackers

This is fascinating.  Both cultures share a tradition of ‘splitting or sharing something’ between two guests, with well-wishing in the process.

In Poland those present at a Christmas dinner walk around the room breaking off small pieces of each other’s Christmas wafer  and share best wishes ranging from: All the Best to lengthier and more specific tidings resembling epic poems.

In Great Britain there is the tradition of the Christmas cracker where guests say a few kind words before pulling on a gift-wrapped tube of sorts.  There is a small cracker inside which makes a sharp bang! Inside the cracker there is always a paper crown, some sweets, perhaps a toy and a small (childish) joke.

A typical Christmas cracker joke:  Where does Frosty keep all of his money? In the snow bank!!

Do you enjoy the holiday season? What are some interesting traditions that your family has?

TELLY – the television in colloquial British English
ABSTAIN – to refuse, turn down or avoid doing something


Komentarze: 3

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  1. I would also add that nobody – absolutely nobody – goes to church on what the Brits call ‚Boxing Day’. Even the English Catholics. Including the priests.

  2. Two years ago my wife and me were on Sylvester evening in Munich st. Joseph Church. Among other there was a performance of the Ceremony of Carols by Benjamin Britten, the choir was marvellous, the atmosphere as well. An unforgivable evening!

  3. Re: Polish X-mas songs: not true that they’ve just started appearing recently, in fact, throughout the PRL era real X-mas Carols were frowned upon by the communists government, and were not publicly played – on the radio or TV – before the actual evening of the Christmas Eve. Many Polish pop groups such Skaldowie or Czerwone Gitary wrote great timeless hit X-mas songs at the time, such as „Z kopyta kulig rwie”, 1969 ( „Sleigh-ride-party horsies rush”) or the amazingly beautiful „Jeden dzień w roku” , 1974 ” („The one day of the year”) by Czerwone Gitary’s talented frontman and uniquely talented composer Seweryn Krajewski. Paradoxically, because the communist regime forcibly „encouraged” the lay way of life, X-mas songs flourished at the time and the best ones, real evergreens, were composed just then. The new songs, with precious few exceptions, don’t even come close.