Polish Christmas carols, Kolędy
Christmas carols, Kolędy, are very popular in Poland, where they have a long history, the oldest dating to the 15th century or earlier.
Christmas carols are not celebrated in Poland until after the Christmas Vigil Mass,*. The Christmas season often runs until February 2nd. The early religious hymns sung in Catholic church were brought to Poland by the Franciscan Brothers already in the Middle Ages. The early Christmas music was Latin in origin. When the Polish words and melodies started to become popular, including many new secular pastorals (pastoralka, or shepherd's songs), they were not written down originally, but rather taught among people by heart. Many of these early Polish carols were collected in 1838 by Rev. Hioduszewki in a book called Pastorałki i Kolędy z Melodiami (Pastorals and Carols with Melodies).
Some families as well as individual worshipers attend the traditional midnight mass/Shepherd's Mass (pasterka), where Christmas carols are also sung.
A major part of the Wigilia** festivities is the opening of gifts. The children often open their gifts and hand out the gifts for the adults from under the tree. The gift-giver in Polish tradition is Saint Nicholas or the Gwiazdka – his feminine counterpart – the little Star of Bethlehem.
**Wigilia (Polish pronunciation: [vi-gi-ly-ya]) is the traditional Christmas Eve vigil supper in Poland, held on December 24. The term is also often extended to the whole day of the Christmas Eve, extending further into the midnight Mass held at Roman Catholic churches all over Poland and large Polish communities worldwide at midnight preceding the Christmas Day. In this usage, the supper itself is rather called "wieczerza" or "wieczerza wigilijna", using an Old Polish word meaning "dinner", "large supper", stemming from Proto-Indo-European root vesper - evening. The Last Supper translates into Polish as "ostatnia wieczerza".
The word "Wigilia" derives from the Latin verb vigilare, "to watch", and literally means 'eve'. The feasting traditionally begins once the First Star has been sighted (usually by children) in the heavens at dusk (around 5 p.m.). Therefore Christmas is also sometimes called "Gwiazdka" (the little star, referring to the Star of Bethlehem).
Family members begin the celebration with a prayer and breaking of the Christmas wafer (opłatek - symbolizing the bread eaten daily — our day-to-day common life) and wishing each other good fortune in the upcoming new year. (After the prayer, usually done by the man of the house, the opłatek is broken and pieces are given to everyone attending the table. From there, everyone breaks off a piece of their opłatek, and shares it with everyone else, wishing luck and joy in the upcoming year, for Christ has been born. This wish is usually finalized by a kiss on the cheek.) Readings from the Bible concerning the nativity of Jesus are practiced in more religious households. In the countryside, it is customary to feed livestock (though not dogs, cats, and other pets) with the wafer, as the animals of the household are to be treated as people that day and are traditionally believed to speak with a human voice.
Maria Duszynska tells the story of Christmas Eve 1939 in her home in Poland. It was the last Christmas Maria was to see in Poland.
Maria tells the story of Russian Soldiers arriving at her home to deport the family to Siberia. All survived and eventually settled happily in Britain.
My mother’s sisters Martha and Helen and my father’s nephew went through the same horrific experience as Maria’s father.
Let us join together to celebrate a Polish Christmas by singing the Kolędy that were taught us by our Felician sisters and our parents.