I didn't hear about this when I was in the south, so I don't know if this superstition only exists in the north, or in all of the country, but when I was in Malbork and Gdansk, street vendors and shops were selling carvings and cutouts of Jews. The vendors told us that in Poland, having a Jew in your home will bring you good luck and money. I'm not exactly sure how this superstition got started, but it is an interesting one. They're a bit expensive, so I didn't end up buying one, but if you believe in this kind of stuff, go for it, and see if it brings you luck and money. If you are gonna buy one, buy an original wood carving, and not a cheap plastic cutout.
Chimney sweeps are rare in Poland these days, but there is a cool legend about these guys. They say if you see one, you have to grab a button on any peice of clothing you're wearing, and make a wish, and it will come true. I didn't try it, so I have no idea if it works or not, but it's a fun little superstition for the kids. Next time you see one, try it, and who knows, your wish may come true.
When we drived through poland-we saw so many churches and cemetery areas. And they were all beautiful and carefully maintained. And there was allways people in churches. Peaceful stop between driving.
Although Republic of Poland is divided into 17 voivodeships ( provinces) according to the administrative reform, which went into effect on 1 January 1999 - see more on -, there are also some traditionally recognised regions connected with geographical features, ethnicity and historical backgrounds. One of those region is Zulawy Wislane, which mostly in Pomeranian Voivodeship (wojewodztwo pomorskie - see more on ) upon the Vistula and Nogat Rivers, in fact in their estuary, a large delta situated on very fertile lands below the sea level in many places. It is famous of " flood control ditches in the depression wetland" and half-timbered houses. So why this information is here in the section of local customs tips? Because we here often say: "I did some sightseeing on Zulawy." or "I come from a village / town in Mazowsze (Mazovia)" or "I'd love to have a cottage and a lot somewhere in Warmia" etc. When someone would take you to Zulawy don't be afraid of ending up on a deserted land, in fact you're close to Gdansk or Tczew or Elblag. What's more, being there you can easily transfer to the other regions called Kaszuby, Kociewie, Bory Tucholskie, Mierzeja Wislana or any other.
Most of the Poles take off their shoes before enter the house. This custom is very common in a lot of countries so probably most of you take it as granted but if it is not used to your contry (like in my country Greece) be prepared and observe what others do :)
Wielka Orkiestra Swiatecznej Pomocy (The Great Orchestra of Christmas Charity) is the biggest and most prosperous charity organization in Poland. Its objectives, included in the status document, are saving children's lives, health promotion and education in the field of preventive treatment. Between 1993 and 2004 The Great Orchestra of Christmas Charity has collected and spent over $50 mln for saving lives. Besides humanitarian work, the Foundation is also a powerful medium spreading the ideology of kindness, friendship, tolerance, and openness.
In ten years, the Foundation has completed 8 gigantic projects. It has bought the medical equipment needed on the numerous pediatric divisions specializing in: cardio-surgery, neonatal medicine, oncology, post-traumatic surgery, pediatric nephrology, diagnostics, newborns' surgery, and newborns & children under 5 years old divisions.
All together, over 10 thousands Pieces of the Most Modern Medical Equipment for Polish Public Hospitals was bought and distributed in public hospitals all around Poland. Among others, Foundation has bought: ambulances, incubators, physiologic monitors, oxygen blenders, infusion and drainage pumps, pulse oximeters, infant ventilators, new beds, anti-bed-sore mattresses, and many more.
If you are in Poland in the begining of the year and on the second Sunday of January somebody will give you heartshaped sticker like shown on the pic give them some money back. It doesn’t matter how much will you give... You’ll take part in the biggest charity action in Poland called Wielka Orkiestra Swiatecznej Pomocy - The Great Orchestra of Christmas Charity. They collect money for saving children’s lives. Since 1993 they’ve collected over $44 mln. If you want to know more about this action please check their website.
The Polish language, a member of the West Slavic branch of the Slavic languages, functions as the official language of Poland. It is a rather tricky language to master, due to numerous consonants one after another. The younger generations usually speak some English and German which are the most common second languages studied and spoken.
The language uses the Latin alphabet with a few additional letters, (formed with an additional slash or hook), bringing the total to 32. The letters you won't find include: q, v, and x, the only exception being direct translations from other languages (such as 'fax'). There are a whole range of words which look pretty similar to their English equivalents, such as 'policja', 'restauracja' 'hotel' and 'taxi'. These are hardly difficult to miss, but here are a handful of others that may be useful: 'kawiarnia' (cafe), herbaciarnia (tea house), ksiegarnia (book shop), nabial (dairy products), sklep (shop), prasa (newsagent), dworzec (station) and lotnisko (airport).
A very useful thing for me to know was the difference between 'woda gasowana' (carbonated water) and 'nie gasowana' (still water), not liking carbonated water very much and having bought that at least couple of times during 10 days in Poland!!
I think Michael Palin quoted a research stating that "Polish was among the six most difficult languages to learn" in his Television travel series.
Want to learn Polish?
Polish is a difficult language to learn, but you can try! Here are some basic words that you can use while you're there to help you get around.
1. Czesc (CHESH): Hello
2. Dziekuje (JEE-KOO-YEH): Thank you
3. Jest piękna (YEST PYANG-KNA): Its beautiful/This is beautiful
4. Jest piszne (YEST PEESH-NEH): Its delicious/ This is delicious
3. Nie mowie po polsku (NYEE-MOE-VYI POE POL-SKOO): I don't speak Polish
4. Movie po Angielsku/francusku/hiszpansku (MOE-VYI PO ANG-EAL-SKOO/FRAN-SOO-SKOO/HEESH-SHPAN-SKOO): I speak English/French/Spanish
5. Moviesz po angielsku? (MOE-VYI PO ANG-EAL-SKOO): Do you speak English?
6. Gdzie są toalty? (G-JAY SOE TOE-LETEH): Where are the washrooms?
7. Skąd jestesz? (SKAWND YES-TESH): Where are you from?
8. Nie wiem (NYEE VYEM): I don`t know
9. Tak (TUCK): Yes
10. Nie (NYEE): No
11. Przepraszam (PSHUH-PRASH-UM): Excuse me
12. Gdzie (GJAY): Where
13. Co (TSO): What
14. Ile (EE-LEH): How much/many
15. Ile co kosztuje (EE-LEH TSO KOSH-TOO-YEH): How much is this?
14. Jak (YUCK): How
15. Rozumium (ROTS-OO-MIUM): I understand
16. Nie Rozumiem (NYEE ROTS-OO-MIUM): I don`t understand
The day before Christmas is for Polish Catholics even more important than Christmas Day itself. It starts as a normal working day only busier as people frantically look for presents, do last minute shopping for food or decorate their Christmas trees. The shops close at about 3 or 4 p.m., buses get less and less frequent until only night buses are left. It is a family holiday so most restaurants will close as well.
Christmas Eve Supper is the most important of all Christmas meals, which all the family members try to attend. It starts with sharing the consecrated wafer and exchanging good wishes with the others. After that, the proper feast starts. Traditionally, there will be some hay put under the tablecloth, which is supposed to bring the family prosperity in the year to come and there will be one extra place laid for 'the lone wanderer', who, however, hardly ever comes but, theoretically, should be made welcome. The typical dishes on the table include herring in oil or vinegar, jellied fish, mushroom soup or borsch (betroot soup) with mushroom-filled dumplings, fried carp, kompot (a drink made from dried fruit) and for pudding a few kinds of cakes, the most popular of which is poppyseed cake. No meat or alcohol are allowed, but the ban on alcohol is not observed in all families. Some time during the meal Santa Claus arrives with the presents but, more often, children are sent to another room to watch out for the first star and, while they are there, the presents magically appear under the Christmas tree. When I was a child, only children would be showered with gifts on that day but nowadays all family members may get them. After the meal, there will be carol singing and, when the children are already in bed, some family members may go to attend the Midnight Mass. Of course, this is an idealized picture of Christmas Supper. There may also be some variations on it depending on the family.
When Ingrid (Trekki) wrote to me, suggesting we could give links to our Christmas carols on our pages, I was really thrilled. Polish people have some really lovely ones that I am sure you will enjoy. And she has even taught me how to make the links. Thanks, Ingrid.
So here they are:
Dzisiaj w Betlejem
Wsrod nocnej ciszy
Oj maluski, maluski
Gdy sliczna Panna...
Wsrod nocnej ciszy
For German carols, see Trekki's Germany Local Customs tip.
In Matt's Krakow forum, he listed favourite POLISH FOOD.
1. barszcz - beetroot soup
2. chlodnik - cold soup made of soured milk, young beet leaves, beets, cucumbers and chopped fresh dill
3. czernina - duck blood soup
4. flaki or flaczki - beef or pork tripe stew with marjoram
5. rosól - clear chicken soup
6. zupa grzybowa - mushroom soup made of various species of mushroom
7. zupa ogórkowa - soup of sour, salted cucumbers, often with pork ("dill pickle soup")
8. zupa szczawiowa (sorrel soup)
9. zur - soured rye flour soup with white sausage and/or hard-boiled egg
10. zurek - zur with potatoes, Polish sausage (kielbasa), and egg (jajko). Depending on the part of Poland it came from it may contain mushrooms as well. This dish is also called staro wiejski ("old village");urek is frequently served with sour cream or by itself.
11. grochówka - pea soup.
12. kapusniak - sour cabbage soup
13. zupa pomidorowa - pomidorowa - delicious tomato soup with either spaghetti or rice.
14. krupnik - chicken boullion base vegetable soup with kasha
1. pierogi - dumplings, usually filled with sauerkraut and/or mushrooms, meat, potato and/or savory cheese, sweet curd cheese with a touch of vanilla, or blueberries or other fruits, such as cherries or strawberries, and sometimes even apples - optionally topped with sour cream, and sugar for the sweet versions
2. bigos - a stew of sauerkraut and meat, similar to the French choucroute, but generally less acidic and including unfermented cabbage
3. kotlet schabowy - a breaded pork chop, similar to the Austrian Wiener Schnitzel but usually thicker, served with boiled potatos and cabbage stew
4. kasza gryczana ze skwarkami - buckwheat cereal with chopped, fried lard and onions
5. kaczka z jablkami - roast duck with apples
6. sztuka miesa - a meat dish similar to the Bavarian Tellerfleisch or Austrian Tafelspitz
7. golonka - stewed pork knuckle or hock
8. gulasz - Goulash
9. golabki - Golumpki, cabbage leaves stuffed with spiced minced meat and rice or with mushrooms and rice served with sour cream or tomato sauce
10. placki kartoflane/ziemniaczane - potato pancakes usually served with sour cream
11. pyzy - potato dumplings served by themselves or stuffed with minced meat or cottage cheese
12. nalesniki - creps which are either folded in to triangles or rolled in to a tube typical servings include sweet white cheese with sugar and sour cream, various fruits topped with bita smietana (whipped cream) or with bite bialka (whipped egg whites)
13. mizeria - sliced cucumbers and sour cream.
14. kaszanka - Polish blood sausage, made of pork blood, liver, lungs and fat with kasza, spiced with onion, pepper and marjoram.
15. kiszka – same as kaszanka
1. Paczki - just try it, closed donut filled with rose marmalade or other fruit conserves.
2. Sernik - (cheesecake) is one of the most popular desserts in Poland. It is a cake made primarily of twaróg, a type of fresh cheese.
3. Kutia - a small square pasta with wheat, poppy seeds, nuts, raisins and honey. Typically served during Christmas.
4. makowiec - poppyseed-swirl cake, sometimes with raisins and/or nuts.
5. chalka - sweet white wheat bread of Jewish origin.
6. krówki - Polish fudge, soft milk toffee candies.
7. kisiel - clear, jelly-like fruit liquid.
8. budyn; - pudding--usually comes in many different flavors, such as sweet cream, chocolate, and even cherry.
9. pierniki - soft gingerbread shapes iced or filled with marmalade of different fruit flavours and covered with chocolate.
The Sunday a week before Easter is called Palm Sunday and Polish people bring colourful specially made 'palms' to church to be consecrated. Some of them are enormous and in some villages competitions for the most beautiful palm are held every year. In traditional country households the palm is later placed behind a holy picture in the living-room. It is supposed to bring the family good health in the coming year.
On the Saturday before Easter Sunday all the Catholics in Poland take a basket of food to their church to be consecrated. The basket contains one or more eggs, often dyed, which mean new life, a small piece of bread, some salt, and sometimes also a piece of sausage. The basket is beautifully decorated with cranberry leaves, catkins and also little chicks or lambs and often brought to church by children. The food is then shared at the Easter table when all the family wish one another all the best.
The cake in the picture is the traditional mazurek (or mazurka, it's the same word as the dance), prepared only for Easter and beautifully decorated. Ours is from a city bakery so a little simplified but I hope it will be just as yummy. Mazurkas are baked some time before Easter as they keep fresh for a long time
For more Easter customs see my Chalupy page and a warning tip on this page will tell you about another Easter custom that has gone beyond control in many places in Poland.
St John's Night celebrations date back to pre-Christian times, when they bore the name of Kupala. The night of 21 June, the shortest night of the year has always been considered a special one, a night of fire, which represents the masculine element and of water, standing for the female. It's a magical night when love can bind people forever.
Nowadays it is more often celebrated on 23 June, on the eve of St John's day or on the Saturday which is closest to that date.
On that night bonfires are lit on river banks and people gather around them to celebrate the coming of the summer. Young girls weave wreathes from wild flowers and love herbs, with ribbons and a candle in the middle. The wreathes are then let off with the river current. If they are carried away, the girl will get married in the coming year but if a wreath gets entangled in the weeds or stopped in some other way its author will have to wait for her beloved longer than that. In some places, young men wait further down the river and try to catch the wreathes. The wreath's owner becomes their pair, at least for the night.
Some people go into the forest to search for a fern flower. The fern is said to flower on that night only and whoever finds its flower will have all their wishes granted. You may try your luck as well.
It's a lovely custom and the tradition has been recently revived even in cities. If you happen to be in Poland near the date, find out what celebrations are planned near the place where you are staying. Some pictures of the celebrations can be found at the web address given below. Click on the images to see them in colour.
Update: 24 June 2009. Last night we watched the celebrations of St John's Night in Krutyn in Mazury. I enclose some pictures of them here - more to be posted on my Mazury page soon.
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