There are several similarities but also differences between Christmas celebrations in Poland and Ukraine. They result from the fact that, although both countries are inhabited by Slavs and Slavic traditions are held there, it is Catholicism that prevails on the Vistula. So what are the characteristics of Christmas in Poland?
The first difference between Christmas in Ukraine and Poland are the dates when the holiday is celebrated. The proper Christmas period in Poland lasts from 24 to 26 December, but the atmosphere of Christmas can be felt long before, from the beginning of December. Advent, which begins at the turn of November and December and ends at Christmas Eve, is a kind of preparation for the upcoming days. It is the time when Poles often make different kinds of resolutions, e.g. refraining from some pleasure. A kind of announcement of Christmas is December 6th, i.e. Saint Nicholas Day (Mikołajki). It is a day when people give each other small gifts by putting them, for example, under a pillow, which is especially pleasing to children. However, after the Christmas period there are sales at which one can buy clothes, etc. often at half the price set before Christmas.
An important element of preparing for Christmas is, among others, decorating the Christmas tree. Poles decorate their trees differently than Ukrainians. They are not covered with cobwebs and certainly not decorated with artificial spiders. Instead, the Christmas tree is decorated with colourful ornaments, be it balls, lights, chains and even candies that children usually “steal” during family gatherings.
Gifts are unpacked on Christmas Eve, not at the New Year time, as in Ukraine. They are also given by the familiar to everybody Santa Clause, not by Grandfather Frost. It is usually some adult who dresses up like Santa to give some joy to children or grandchildren. He is also a figure present in the Catholic Church teachings and Polish priests often speak of him when addressing their congregations during masses.
The celebrations themselves are quite similar in both countries, but there are a few slight differences. In some homes in Poland, the old custom of leaving one symbolic free plate at the table for an unexpected guest on Christmas Eve is observed. In addition, before getting to the table, Poles share a wafer, which is a reference to Jesus sharing bread with the disciples at the Last Supper. By sharing it, people give each other cordial wishes, including the ones for the next year.
Finally, as in Ukraine, there are twelve dishes on the table during the supper. However, dishes such as kutia are much rarer in Poland, present only in its eastern borderlands. During the Christmas Eve, children go on carolling to their neighbours and relatives, and in return they usually get sweets and some money. Unlike Ukrainian, Polish carollers do not carry a crib nor dress up as characters from the Bible. However, children are not the only ones who sing carols. This is also a popular pastime for adults in church as well as at home at the Christmas Eve table with the family.