The most important celebration in Poland is Christmas, which is a joyous time. On Saint Nicholas' Day (December 6th), children receive presents from Saint Nicholas, who according to legend was a bishop who visited villages and rewarded good children. Another Christmas tradition is the building of a szopki or Nativity scene, a practice that originated in the city Krakow. Szopkis are highly elaborate constructions, with major prizes awarded to the best decorated and designed.

On Christmas Eve, Poles decorate trees and in the evening eat the wigilia meal. Wigilia is the most formal and festive occasion of the year. An extra place is always set at the table for an unexpected guest. In many areas, the feast consists of 12 courses, representing the 12 apostles. According to tradition, meat is never served. An important ritual is the breaking of the oplatek (a thin white wafer), which is shared among family and friends. People unwrap presents after the meal, then attend midnight mass. Poles spend Christmas day with family and close friends. Children dress up as shepherds or the three wise men and go door to door singing carols and collecting treats.

Another important holiday is Easter. The Easter season begins in late February or early March with Ash Wednesday. On Good Friday, people abstain from meat and alcohol. The day before Easter, people pack the traditional Easter meal, called swiecone, into a basket to be blessed at their local church. Swiecone includes richly decorated eggs called pisanki, which are symbols of life. Baskets also include sausages, ham, salt, bread and cakes, and perhaps pepper and horseradish. The most important item is a figure of a lamb made from clay or sugar. People eat swiecone for breakfast on Easter Sunday, which is a day for social celebrations and visiting relatives and friends. On Easter Monday people toss water (a symbol of purity) at each other.

National holidays include Constitution Day, which commemorates the creation of the Polish constitution of 1791-the second oldest constitution in the world. On All Saints' Day (November 1st), people crowd into cemeteries to honour the dead by bringing flowers and candies to their graves.

January 1 New Year's Day
March/April Easter
May 3 Constitution Polish Day
August 15 Feast of the Assumption
November 1 All Saints' Day
December 25, 26 Christmas, Second day of Christmas

  Did you know?
In Poland, most people celebrate their name days rather than their birthdays. A person's name day is the day of the year dedicated to the particular saint after whom the person is named.