Thanks to its climate, spectacular
architecture and rich traditions that enliven the festive
season, Krakow may well aspire to the title of the world's
capital of white Christmas.
Also, the Yuletide lasts longer in the
Krakow region than anywhere else – Christmas trees
glitter and carols resound throughout the tumultuous
New Year in
Krakow and last till the end of January.
starts at the outset of
December. Seasonal street decorations and window-dressing,
omnipresent noel tunes, shopping spree, universal
well-wishing, etc. – it may look alike elsewhere but the
fairyland scenery of Krakow’s numerous Gothic churches and Baroque palaces is
unique. And Santa Claus keeps on visiting every kid in the
city early, i.e. on December 6, his name day, to return
later on the Christmas Eve (though purists maintain that in
Poland it's an angel's job to leave presents by the tree).
Another highlight comes on the first Thursday of December
with the yearly contest of famous Krakow Christmas cribs on the city's central Grand Square (Rynek Glowny).
Christmas Eve celebration
begins when the first
star appears in the sky, with sharing an ‘oplatek’
wafer with everybody present and wishing him nice things to
happen in the next twelve months. Then comes traditional
twelve-course common dinner of time-honored meatless dishes
(fish, and notably carp, being a must), an additional cover
always laid for an unexpected guest and a handful of hay put
under the tablecloth for good luck. After the meal there is
time for caroling and unwrapping Christmas gifts. The
faithful pack into the beautiful Krakow churches at midnight
when the special ‘Pasterka’ mass is said in remembrance of
shepherds adoring newly born Christ. And on the Christmas
Eve immediately after midnight animals allegedly can speak
their minds in Polish.
and notably the following
holiday on December 26 are popular occasions for family
reunions visiting friends.
Krakow’s Christmas market takes place on the city’s huge
Rynek Glowny central square, amid the
Old Town historic district, every year. It starts
in the last days of November and lasts through December 26th
or even longer, sometimes to the 6th of
January i.e. the festival of Epiphany called Swieto Trzech
Kroli in Polish, a public holiday in Poland.
Wooden stands sell a wide range of Christmas decorations and
sweets as well as other goodies. And open-air eateries offer
hearty meals and mulled wine. Plus there are additional
attractions such as shows, folk dances, concerts of carols,
It is obligatory at home
and at work. The more so that everyone expects to find a
Christmas gift under it. And Krakow’s hand-painted glass
decorations are known worldwide. But watch out for mistletoe
hanging – now rarely – from the ceiling: according to
tradition those standing under it cannot refuse a kiss.
Krakow's szopka creches are fabulous,
colorful and glittering portable theaters for the
traditional Nativity puppet plays, and building them remains
a consuming hobby for some in the city. At the same time
amateur and professional companies of players stage the
Nativity live shows in the holiday season. And seeing the
Nativity various scenes in numerous Krakow churches also is
a popular family activity.
Poland knows hundreds of native carols, often centuries-old.
Apart from sweet lullabies they sound pretty lively as most
rely on traditional dancing tunes.
Traditional ‘oplatek’ Christmas greetings.
The Polish Christmas oplatek wafers are wallet-size,
paper-thin and crisp leafs of bread, white or colored, with
an impression of the Nativity scene. In Poland before the
Christmas Eve dinner those present approach one another with
an ‘oplatek’ wafer in hand and offer wishes. When
approached, everybody listens to wishes, says wishes in
return, breaks off a bit from the other person’s wafer, eats
it, and kisses him or her on both cheeks.
‘Oplatek’ also means popular December and January
social gatherings in Poland where invited guests, even
perfect strangers, practice the ritual among themselves in
addition to regular cocktail-party socializing. And it is
usual to visit friends and family before or over the
Christmastide to share the ‘oplatek’ wafer with
them and exchange wishes.
‘Kolednicy’ carol singers
Carolers still go from door to door during the Yuletide but
nowadays schoolchildren have replaced expert adult
performers of old. Nevertheless, for their efforts the
minors expect small change rather than sweets.
Unlike eateries all shops are closed in Krakow on December
25th and December 26th so get your daily necessities in
advance. In emergency you may resort to stores at gas
stations that usually stay open all the time. And a number
of chemist shops are designated to be on duty and sell