Carollers at the Opłatek and Kolęda (Jan. 17, 2011) at St. Stan's in Buffalo, New York:
Over 200 people shared opłatek, sang Polish Christmas Carols led by Fr. Czesław Krysa and the Polish Heritage Dancers organized by the Polish Legacy Project-WWII. The Project's Mission includes the recording of stories of Polish WWII survivors who settled in WNY and to share them with the wider community as well as to continue celebratin Polish traditions. Part of that tradition includes getting together to as a community to sing kolędy during the Christmas season which continues through January. The Opłatek was a multi-generational affair, in one case bringing four generations together at one table, headed by the eldest, Pani Zofia Miernik, a survivor of Nazi camps during WWII.
St. Sylvester's Eve in Poland
In Poland, New Year's Eve continues the holiday season. During the Christmas season, the Polish immerse themselves in religious traditions such as Szopa, Polish Christmas nativity scenes, which are an important part of the holidays. All year-round in Poland, religion is at the forefront of everyday society. Home owners have shrines to Jesus and Mary set up in their yards all throughout the countryside.
New Year's Eve in Poland is the time for partying. The Polish call their New Year's Eve "Sylwester" or St. Sylvester's Eve. St. Sylvester was Pope Sylvester I. The legend goes that Pope Sylvester bravely imprisoned a dragon named Leviathan. He was a dangerous and ruthless dragon, who planned to escape on the first day of the year 1000. In doing so, he would eat the people and pillage the land. Worst of all, Leviathan planned to set fire to heaven.
On New Year's Day of the year 1000, Leviathan remained imprisoned due to Pope Sylvester. Everyone celebrated because the world did not end by the dragon's evil forces. From then on, New Year's Eve was known as Sylwester in Poland. Both Germany and Austria also celebrate this night as St. Slyester's Eve.
Many Polish attend formal New Year's Eve balls. In fact, a famous ball is put on by the Warsaw Philharmonic society. Dancing, drinking and ringing in the New Year takes place in a castle in Golub-Dobrzyn. The Polish "man of the year" attends the ball, much to everyone's delight.
In normal Polish towns, the people attend less formal balls. In some of the bigger towns and cities, the Polish put on firework displays. In villages, the people throw barn parties and celebrate all night long. Party revelers drink and dance. At the fancier parties, hosts treat their guests to a delicious, cooked breakfast.
In historical times, tricks ensued as well. Youngsters smeared windows and doorknobs with tar. They hid pots from their owners. Youngsters played these tricks because they were automatically forgiven once the New Year came.
The Polish use St. Sylvester's Eve to let loose and party the night away. It is the one night of the year to relax on strict religious rituals and have fun. And as the Polish say, "Szczesliwego Nowego Roku" or a prosperous New Year to you.
Lyrics, chords and video or audio samples for many more Polish Christmas Carols are listed on the main Christmas page.
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, like the story of Christmas, never get old.