Kolendy ("kolędy" in Polish) and pastorałki are two types of Polish Christmas carols; kolendy are religious hymns celebrating the Nativity and pastoralki are the secular shepard's songs that also celebrate the birth of Christ but were never accepted as dogmatically accurate by the Church. Many of these songs, universally beloved for their sweet and hauntingly beautiful melodies, date back to before the 15th century and are still treasured by Poles today. If you are Polish or of Polish descent, certainly you have fond memories of singing kolendy in church during the Christmas season or perhaps listening to a family musician play them on guitar, violin or piano for your Christmas celebrations.
Kolendy are essentially folk songs that, like all folk songs, reflect the character of the people that created them. The melodies can be spirited, sad, tender, even raucous - just like the Polish peasants or mountaineers themselves. The lyrics express a native consciousness that is representative of the inimitable Polish spirit. Musically speaking, kolendy are very simple tunes that are almost always basic three-chord progressions. Certainly any church organist could easily perform these familiar melodies year after year with little practice. Similarly, folk musicians could skillfully accompany their friends and families eager to harmonize and sing along. Perhaps it is this very musical simplicity that has made it possible for kolendy to capture the Polish spirit and to endure for so many generations.
Kolendy, like the story of Christmas, never get old.
Traditionally in Poland during Advent, the "Gwiazdory," or star carriers, wander through the towns and villages and this continues until Epiphany. Some of the Gwiazdory sing Kolędy i Pastorałki; others recite verses or put on "Szopki" (puppet shows), or "herody" (nativity scenes). Read about this and other Polish Christmas customs HERE
*Wigilia (pronounced [vee-GEEL-ya] in Polish) 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 comunities worldwide at midnight preceding the Christmas Day. 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).
The table is set for the Wigilia dinner. In some regions of Poland, the meal is called "Wilia".
Interested in making your own pierogi for Wigilia?
67th edition of the Krakow Szopy Contest. This tradition originated in the 19th century. In 2009, 110 nativity scenes were submitted for the contest. Prizes were awarded in several categories: large, medium-sized, small and miniature szopki. Separate prizes were also awarded to the best junior and sub junior szopy makers (these categories are reserved for students and children respectively).
The period before Christmas Day is known as Advent, which in Latin means "the coming", and lasts for four weeks. Beginning with the first Sunday of Advent, the faithful attend a special Mass before daybreak known as "Rorate" that is dedicated to Mary the Mother of Jesus for receiving the good news from the Angel Gabriel. The priest is clothed in white vestments for this Mass which is celebrated every morning through Advent until Christmas Eve. The name "Roraty" comes from the first words of the Introit, "Rorate coeli desuper":
"Roraty" dates back to the fifteenth century. The young and old rise up before sunrise to attend this Mass regardless of inclement weather conditions and the semi-darkness which still prevails at that time of day. To make the journey easier, many carry lanterns.
The church is in semi-darkness too before the beginning of Mass, except for the light from the candles on the altar and the lanterns brought by the faithful. All the lights in church are turned on when the priest chants, "Gloria in excelsis Deo".
In certain regions of Poland, children have an active part in the Advent devotion. They await and anticipate the birth of the Child Jesus. Somewhere near the altar there stands a stairway with as many steps as there are days in Advent. On the first day of the "Roraty Mass", a statuette of the infant Jesus is placed on the topmost step. Then each day after the "Roraty" the little ones see how the statuette is lowered one step. The children look forward to the big day, Christmas Eve", when the statuette will be placed on the very lowest step signaling the beginning of Nativity celebrations.
Rorate coeli desuper et nubes pluant justum
(Drop down dew, ye heavens, from above, and let the clouds rain the just)
Aperiatur terra et germinet salvatorem"
(Let the earth be opened and send forth a Saviour").
One of the most beautiful and touching traditions is the Christmas Wafer. Even in the darkest hours, when Poland was ravaged and plundered by its enemies, a Pole never forgot the Christmas Wafer which he shared with his family and neighbors on Christmas Eve.
The "Opłatek" tradition is cherished by not only Poles in Poland, but by the people throughout the world whose ancestors came from Poland. The term "Opłatek" comes from the Latin word "oblatus", which means a gift or oblation. The "opłatek", as thin wafer made of flour and water, is sometimes colored and used to make Christmas ornaments. Some wafers are given to cattle in memory of the friendly beasts in the stable where Jesus was born. Nativity scenes are impressed upon these wafers.
Years ago, opłateki (plural) were baked by the religious or organists and were distributed from house to house in the parish during Advent. Today, they are produced commercially and sold in Catholic stores or religious houses.
Wigilia is a very solemn occasion frequently evoking tears of love and gratitude. In this festive atmosphere, human frailties are forgotten and personal grievances are forgiven all in the spirit of Christmas. In Poland the gala feast was followed by the decorating of the Christmas tree, in which ceremony all took part to the merry tunes of the Polish kolendy or Christmas carols. Polish children traditionally received presents from Nicholas on December 6, but modern Poland is adopting our way of exchanging gifts on Christmas Eve.
And so the celebration continues until it is time to go to church for Midnight Mass. Poles call this Mass "Pasterka" or Mass of the Shepherds, who were the first to arrive in Bethlehem and pay homage to the Christ Child.
You may enjoy the following video of the Pasterka and the beautiful kolendy we love so much. I could watch it over and over...
The vigil supper is a family affair in Poland. (In some regions of Poland, the meal is called "Wilia".)The Christmas wafer is sent by mail to members of the family who live away from home, as well as to cherished friends, In many homes a special place is set at the table for an unexpected visitor, or a lonely neighbor may be invited to join in.
It is customary in Poland to wait for the first star to appear in the heavens before sitting down for the vigil meal. The family gathers at the traditional "wigilia supper", which consists of Lenten dishes and is served in an odd number of courses, ranging from seven to fifteen. The meal begins with prayer and is preceded by the sharing of the Christmas wafer. The head of the family with the "opłatek" in hand addresses the family, speaking first of Christmas of yore and then extending season's greetings to all. All listen with reverence. Next comes the individual exchange of wishes, as the head of the family begins to share the Christmas wafer with the members of the family, from oldest to youngest. All other members do likewise, expressing warm wishes.
Polskie Kolędy i Pastoralki - Polish Christmas Carols
Christmas in Poland is a gala time covering a two week span from Christmas to the Epiphany (The Feast of the Three Kings) and Poles continue to sing Christmas carols until Candlemas, which is celebrated on on February 2.
An integral part of the holiday celebration are Christmas dramas called "Jasełka". The young people who play out the various persons connected with the Nativity prepare for the presentations well in advance. Dramatized are the birth of Christ, the homage paid Him by angels, shepherds and kings. Preparations include training in dance because dancing is and inseparable part of the Polish music.
There are both secular and religious carols. The secular ones may include songs of praise for special persons, ending in good wishes. Some of these serve as greeting cards in America and other Polonia communities. The custom of carol singing is considered more that an ordinary ceremony and admission to the group of carolers is prescribed in many instances by rules.
The carolers go from house to house carrying with them the traditional paper stars hung from large sticks. The stars are made of colored cardboard, so constructed that they revolve like a pinwheel.
Pasterka odprawiona w kościele św. Antoniego na Wzgórzu św. Maksymiliana w Gdyni u franciszkanów. Po Mszy św. w kościele franciszkanie składali parafianom życzenia i łamali się opłatkiem. Więcej na: http://www.gdynia.franciszkanie.pl
Więcej na http://www.franciszkanie.tv
Most Polish carols are so old no one know who composed them. Their origin goes as far back as the fourteenth century. One of the first Polish carols, "W Zlobie lezy", or "Away in a Manger" is considered the first Polonaise. In other carols, other dance rhythms may be detected. Polish religious carols express profound feeling and owe their origin to monks in cloisters. Some are based on legend and although they are not accepted as historical fact (not even close), they appeal to those of us who are enchanted with the wonder of animals speaking and angels descending from heaven.
The last group of carols, neither religious nor legendary, springs from the imaginations of humble Polish folk, who in relating the story of the Nativity used familiar native surroundings. Thus Bethlehem is a Polish village and all actors in the scene are Polish folk. Truly the "Jaselka" transmit the religious fervor of the Polish people.
The vigil supper is a family affair in Poland. (In some regions of Poland, the meal is called "Wilia".) The Christmas wafer is sent by mail to members of the family who live away from home, as well as to cherished friends, In many homes a special place is set at the table for an unexpected visitor, or a lonely neighbor may be invited to join in.
It is customary in Poland to wait for the first star to appear in the heavens before sitting down for the vigil meal. The family gathers at the traditional "wigilia supper", which consists of Lenten dishes and is served in an odd number of courses, ranging from seven to fifteen. The meal begins with prayer and is preceded by the sharing of the Christmas wafer. The head of the family with the "opłatek" in hand addresses the family, speaking first of Christmases of yore and then extending season's greetings to all. All listen with reverence. Next comes the individual exchange of wishes, as the head of the family begins to share the Christmas wafer with the members of the family, from oldest to youngest. All other members do likewise, expressing warm wishes.
This website is the result of my Polish pride and my love of good music. When people ask me what kind of music I like, I tell them that I like any song with a simple melody and good harmony. If you are at all familiar with Polish Christmas carols, you surely can understand why I enjoy kolendy (kolędy) so much.
When Christmas rolls around, I like to relax by playing Christmas songs on my guitar. Typically, I start out by playing the standard American and religious carols people like to hear around the holidays. Before long, however, I get bored and switch to the old Polish melodies and harmonies I learned as a St. Stan's choirboy back in the fifties and sixties.
The songs listed on this page are really the heart of this website. Here, I hope to share with you--and learn more about--the beauty of Polish kolendy. I hope you will visit regularly to check my progress in recording my favorite Polish Christmas songs and guitar tutorials to help you learn to play kolendy with heart. Although I started this project for the benefit of my grandchildren and folk musicians who share my passion for simple melodies and sweet harmonies, everyone is welcome to join in. I hope you like it. Have fun!
In the USA, Wigilia is sometimes a community celebration. The photo on the left was taken in Rochester, New York.
How to say “Merry Christmas” in Polish? Here you find greetings and a few expressions, that will be useful:
◾Merry Christmas – Wesołych Świąt Bożego Narodzenia, the short version of this is simply – Wesołych Świąt (Happy Holiday) and you can say it while sharing the wafer, but also in your workplace, shop, etc.
◾Other wishes you can say during Wigilia (wafer sharing):
◾All the best – Wszystkiego najlepszego
◾God’s blessing – Błogosławieństwa Bożego
◾Lots of health – Dużo zdrowia – this is a very poplular phrase, and Poles say it with other occasions (birthday, name’s day),
◾Lots of love – Dużo miłości
◾Lots of happiness – Dużo szczęścia,
◾All kinds of prosperity – Wszelkiej pomyślności
◾Be fulfilled with your family – Zadowolenia z rodziny
◾Dedicated friends – Oddanych przyjaciół
◾People’s kindness – Ludzkiej życzliwości
◾May your dreams come true – Spełnienia marzeń
◾Anything you wish for – Wszystkiego czego sobie życzysz
◾Cool presents – Fajnych prezentów
If you know the other person well, you can say something personal, that you think they may wish for, but with this list you are ready to celebrate Wigilia in Poland.