Poland, Advent is a time of fasting and prayer, of spiritual preparation
for Christmas. The four weeks of waiting for the Nativity are not a
time for parties, decorating, and shopping like in the United States.
In Poland, people stay indoors and the long evenings are spent making
handmade decorations for the Christmas tree out of straw, paper, and
foodstuffs like nuts and grains. It is also a time for making handmade
gifts, baking Christmas cookies, and preparing other delicacies for
the upcoming holidays. Special early-morning masses called "roraty"
are celebrated, starting when it is still dark out, with churchgoers
lighting candles at different times during the mass, gradually bringing
light to the day and symbolizing the upcoming Nativity of Christ, a
miracle that brought light and salvation to the world.
6th, St. Nicholas day - Dzien Swietego Mikolaja - brings a slight reprieve
to the gray winter days, especially to children, who feel that Christmas
is still so far away. Someone in the family was selected to represent
St. Nicholas and he was often driven in a sleigh to the homes in a Polish
village. He was dressed in a long white or red robe, wearing a tall
headpiece much like a bishop's miter, a long white flowing beard, and
in his hand he held a shepherd's staff. He rebuked the naughty children
and praised the nice ones, listening to them as they recited their catechism
and prayers. Then he passed around heart-shaped pierniki (gingerbread
cookies), holy pictures, and big red apples, which he produced magically
from under his cloak. When St. Nicholas could not make the visit personally,
his gifts were placed under the children's pillows during the night.
The tradition continues today, and Polish children receive gifts on
December 6th as well as on December 24th.
of the most beautiful traditions of preparing for Christmas in Poland
is a mass called "roraty," that is only celebrated during
Advent. The mass begins before sunrise, in complete darkness. The word
"roraty" comes from the first words of the introit, the prayer
that begins the mass, which are "Rorate coeli" in Latin, meaning
"Heaven, drop the morning dew," and which asks for blessings
on the new day that is about to begin.
no other country is this mass celebrated as solemnly and as beautifully
as in Poland. The service symbolizes readiness and vigilance in anticipation
of Christ's coming. People who participate in the service bring torches
or candles with them, which are lit at certain times during the mass,
gradually dispelling the darkness.
service has a very special atmosphere since it starts in total darkness,
before sunrise, and as daybreak slowly comes, candles are lit at the
altar and in the hands of the people participating in the service. As
the mass comes to an end, the sun has risen and the world is bathed
in light, symbolizing the nativity of Christ which brought light and
redemption to the world. Roraty have been celebrated in Poland since
the 12th century and continue to be celebrated in cities and villages
throughout the country to this day.
the historic royal city of Poland and former capital, celebrates Advent
in a very special way. On the first Sunday of Advent, the beautiful
city square "Rynek" gets decorated with fir boughs, garlands,
Christmas trees, and twinkling lights. Booths are set up for the Christmas
Market and on the first Thursday in December, the square turns into
an art competition, keeping alive a tradition that dates back hundreds
of years. The competition for the most beautiful Krakow Nativity Crib
or " Szopka Krakowska" is sponsored every year by the Historical
Museum of Krakow.
szopki are richly ornamented, multi-layered, and constructed from colored
paper, silver and gold foil, cardboard, bits of plastic, and faux jewels.
Actual sizes of the competition nativities range in size from small
enough to fit inside a matchbox to several meters high. In keeping with
tradition, Krakow szopka-makers often incorporate characters from Krakow
history and legends in their creations, such as Queen Wanda, the Dragon
of Wawel, and the famed Lajkonik. Each crèche is a miniature
version of Krakow, rendered in fairy-tale colors, intricate and joyful,
and often imbued with humor. This art form dates back back to medieval
times and the competition for the most beautiful Krakow szopka was reinstated
in 1937, discontinued during the War years, and reopened again in 1946.
open-air Christmas market is the backdrop for the competition and there
are many booths set up that sell Christmas ornaments and gifts, beads,
wooden toys, pottery, lace, nativity scenes, and other handmade gifts.
The smell of roasted chestnuts and mulled wine fills the air as lights
twinkle illuminating the beautiful buildings and monuments on the Square.
It is one of the most beautiful city centers in all of Europe, in every
season of the year!