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  • Faithful to my Homeland, the Republic of Poland
  • NATIONAL HOLIDAYS

  • Holidays in Poland are regulated by the Non-working Days Act of 18 January 1951 (Ustawa z dnia 18 stycznia 1951 o dniach wolnych od pracy) — Journal of Laws, No. 4 of 1960, item No. 28. The Act, as amended in 1990, currently defines twelve public holidays.

    Date
    English Name
    Remarks
    January 1
    New Year's Day
     
    Sunday in Spring (movable)
    Easter Sunday
     
    Monday following Easter Sunday
    Easter Monday
     
    May 1
    State Holiday (Labour Day)
     
    May 3
    National 3rd of May Holiday

    This holiday is usually called Constitution Day. (See Polish Constitution of May 3, 1791.)

    7th Sunday after Easter
    Pentecost Sunday
    As this holiday always falls on a Sunday it is not widely known.
    9th Thursday after Easter
    Corpus Christi
    This is a Catholic Church Holiday
    August 15
    Asumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary
    This is also the day of the Polish army (Dzień Wojska Polskiego), celebrating the battle of Warsaw in 1920
    November 1
    All Saint's Day
     
    November 11
    Independence Day
     
    December 25
    1st day of Christmas
     
    December 26
    2nd day of Christmas
     

     

    POLISH INDEPENDENCE DAY

    In 1918, after 123 years of occupation, the Polish state was reborn and regained its independence. Autumn 1918 marked the end of World War I and the defeat of all three occupiers. Russia was plunged into the confusion of revolution and civil war, the multinational Austro-Hungarian monarchy fell apart and went into decline and the Germans bowed to pressure from the forces of the Entente.

    For Poles this was a unique opportunity to reclaim their national way of life. Following defeat of the occupying forces, the Poles began to seize military and civil power, building the foundations of their future nation. On 28th October 1918 the Polish Liquidation Commission was formed in Krakow. The Commission began to seize power from the hands of the Austrians in Galicia and Cieszyn Silesia. A few days later they succeeded in disarming the Austrian forces using members of the secret Polish Military Organisation as well as legionnaires and young people.On 1st November 1918 fighting broke in Lvov out between the Poles and the Ukrainians who were mounting a rebellion of the West Ukrainian People’s Republic.

    On the nights of 6th and 7th November the Provisional Government of the People’s Republic of Poland was formed in Lublin under the supervision of Ignacy Daszyński. The government was made up of representatives from the Polish Socialist Party (PPS), the Polish Social-Democratic Party (PPSD) and the Polish People’s Party “Wyzwolenie” (Liberation). At the same time the Government troops disarmed the occupying forces in Lubelszczyzna and Kielecczyzna. It was at this point that Józef Pilsudski returned to Poland. He had been imprisoned since July 1917 by the Germans. On 10th November 1918 he arrived in Warsaw. His arrival was enthusiastically met by the population of the capital and saw the mass disarmament of the occupying forces across the whole of Poland.
     
    On 11th November 1918 the secret departments of the Polish Military Organisation, demobilized soldiers, legionnaires and young people, disarmed the Germans in Warsaw and other Polish towns.

    On 11th November the Regency Government appointed Józef Pilsudski Commander-in-Chief over the Polish Forces and three days later Pilsudski was given complete civil control. The day before he was also put in charge of the Provisional Government of the People’s Republic of Poland in Lublin. Józef Pilsudski formed a new centralized government which on 21st November issued a manifesto announcing agricultural reforms and the nationalization of several branches of industry. He declared, however, that these measures would depend on the decision of the future legislative government. At the same time Józef Pilsudski brought in highly favourable conditions for the workers and called parliamentary elections.

    On 22nd November Józef Pilsudski was appointed Chief of State and together with the Prime Minister signed a decree about the provisional authorities of the Polish Republic. The Polish people had to fight bloody battles to preserve their regained independence.

    On 27th December 1918 a Polish uprising broke out which restored Poland as the motherland. In Eastern Galicia there was a hard-fought battle with the Ukrainians and in the Eastern parts of Poland self-armed divisions fought with the Bolsheviks. Moreover, three uprisings were needed in Silesia before the Upper Silesia area was once again within Polish borders.Polish Coat of arms after 1989

    A turning point in the rebirth of the Republic was the Battle of Warsaw in which the Polish people fought to regain independence.

    To commemorate the formation of an independent centre of authority in reborn Poland, 11th November, the day when Józef Pilsudski took power, was officially recognized as a national holiday in 1937. However, since 1919 this day has been celebrated as the Day of Polish Independence. Since then it has been one of the most important celebrations for Poles both in Poland and abroad.

    After World War II the Polish People’s authorities removed Independence Day from the calendar but not from the hearts of the Polish people. The reclamation of independence continued to be celebrated annually on 11th November. In 1989 the 9th term of the Sejm government gave the holiday back to the Polish people.

     

    POLISH HOLIDAYS AND CUSTOMS

    Poles are seen as a nation of fun lovers who enjoy festivities, traditions and centuries-old customs. The most ancient rituals, especially those dating back to pagan times, have long lost their magical character, becoming a colourful vestige of the past and a form of amusement. Links with tradition are felt the strongest during the greatest religious feasts, such as Christmas, Easter, Corpus Christi processions and All Saints' Day. Pilgrimages to holy sites are very popular; these include the Monastery of Jasna Góra in Częstochowa for Catholics; the tomb of Rabbi Elimelech in Lezajsk for Jews, the Grabarka Sanctuary for Orthodox Christians.

    The two main national holidays are the anniversary of the restoration of independence in 1918, celebrated on 11 November, and the anniversary of the passing of Poland's first Constitution on 3 May 1791. These are official holidays with ceremonies, marches, concerts and other festivities.
    Other holidays, quite different in character, include Women's Day (8 March; today much less popular than under Communism), Mother's Day (26 May), Granny's Day (21 January) and Children's Day (1 June), all less public and celebrated first and foremost at home.

    A well-established Polish tradition is the celebration of Andrzejki (St. Andrew's Day) - the last festive day before Advent, with fortune-telling to check what the new year will bring. The best-known method is by pouring hot wax into cold water and "reading" its shapes.
    Christmas is a very festive holiday in Poland. Many customs, ceremonies and beliefs centre around Christmas Eve, a special day in Polish homes. An important element contributing to its dignified atmosphere are the Christmas decorations, notably a beautifully adorned Christmas tree. Today it would be difficult to imagine Christmas without it, although it's one of the newest traditions: the first trees appeared in Poland in the 19th century, mainly in cities, introduced by Germans and Protestants of German origin. Gradually the custom gained popularity all across Poland. Before that, Polish houses used to be decorated with green branches of fir, spruce or pine.

    Another element of the traditional Christmas decorations were sheaves of wheat and rye, hay and straw. They were supposed to bring good crops and remind everyone of the poverty in which Jesus was born. The custom has survived in the form of a small bunch of hay put under the tablecloth. In some houses this is accompanied today by money, a fish scale or bone put into a wallet - all to ensure affluence in the new year. An extra set of plates and cutlery is laid on the table for an unexpected guest. Sometimes an empty plate is a reminder of those who have passed away.
    Christmas Eve was believed to affect the entire new year. For this reason, it had to be spent in harmony and peace, with everyone showing the utmost kindness to one another. Today it is still devoted to long preparations for Christmas Eve dinner, all the work having to be done before dusk. Then the whole family  sit down to dine together, in the most important event on that day.

    Traditionally, Christmas Eve dinner begins when the first star has appears in the sky. First, there is a  prayer, sometimes with a passage from scripture about Jesus' birth being read out. Then the family wish one another all the best for the new year and, as a sign of reconciliation, love, friendship and peace, share opłatek Christmas wafers that symbolise holy bread. Orthodox Christians do the same before their Christmas Eve meal by sharing proskura or prosfera, which is unleavened bread.

    The dinner consists only of  meatless dishes. Traditionally, there should be twelve courses - reflecting the number of months in the year or, in different interpretation, Christ's apostles.
    In practice, hardly anybody bothers to count them; the more food is on the table, the more auspicious the next year will be. You at least have to taste everything. This custom derives from the ancient tradition of respect for the fruits of the earth. After dinner, Christmas carols are sung. Many people end the day by attending the Midnight Mass known as Pasterka (the Shepherds' Mass).
       

    Christmas Eve dinner past and present

    Today Christmas Eve dinner is sumptuous and diversified. Typical dishes include barszcz beetroot soup with mushrooms or uszka (dumplings stuffed with mushrooms), mushroom soup, a cabbage dish (usually plain cabbage with mushrooms or pierogi with cabbage and mushrooms), sweet dumplings with poppy seeds, pastries, cakes, fruit, nuts, sweets and a compote drink made from stewed prunes, dried pears and apples. The main treat, though, is fish. The Polish cuisine is noted for a variety of fish dishes: soups, herring salads, fish with sauce, cream or jelly, fish in aspic, baked, fried or boiled fish. A traditional Christmas delicacy is carp or pike in grey sauce with vegetables, almonds, raisins, spices, wine or beer. The obligatory pastries and cakes include poppy-seed twists, honey gingerbreads and a dessert made of sweet poppyseeds with honey, raisins and nuts, served with crisp tarts once known as łamańce or kruchalce. One of the oldest Christmas Eve dishes is kutia, which is made of poppy seeds and boiled wheat with honey. This tradition derives from ancient funerary rituals held on the winter solstice. 

    A popular event during the period after Christmas is the jasełka, a Nativity play staged by amateurs. In the country, you can still see carollers who go from house to house with a star or Nativity crib. Traditionally, they expect to be tipped for the visit; once the payment was in Christmas delicacies, but today these have been largely replaced by small change. The carollers are often dressed up and improvise scenes that loosely draw upon biblical motifs. Typically, the characters are King Herod, Angel, Devil, Death, sometimes Gypsy and a bear or goat.
    The New Year's Day and its eve, known in Poland as Sylwester (St. Silvester's Day), begins the carnival - a period of balls and parties. One traditional form of having fun was kulig (sleigh rides), for centuries favoured by the Polish gentry and still extremely popular. A cavalcade of horse-pulled sleighs and sledges went from one manor house to another, entertained everywhere with hearty meals followed by dances. Today the rides are less spectacular, usually ending with a bonfire and sausages or the traditional bigos.
    The last Thursday of the carnival is a day on which Poles stuff themselves with pączki (doughnuts) and deep-fried narrow strips of pastry known as chrust or faworki.
    The carnival ends with revelry on Shrove Tuesday known as śledzik or śledziówka - the "herring feast", after the herrings eaten on that day as a herald of the coming Lent.
    One pagan tradition still popular today is the drowning of the marzanna ("frost maiden"), held on the fourth  Sunday of Lent. For our ancestors, the custom was associated with the everlasting rhythm of life. It expressed their joy at the coming of spring, which meant a rebirth of nature, promising crops and abundance, the marzanna was a representation of winter, a straw female effigy, dressed in white and adorned with coral beads and ribbons. In Silesia, she was clad in a beautiful wedding dress with a wreath on her head. Villagers carried the marzanna from house to house, then stripped her and scattered the clothes over the fields. Eventually she was drowned in a river, pond, lake or simply in a big puddle. Sometimes before throwing her into the water the effigy was set on fire. As the marzanna was carried out of the village one way, on the opposite side the villagers carried in the maik - green branches adorned with ribbons, coral beads and flowers. Over centuries this ceremony evolved into a form of amusement. Today drowning the marzanna is mainly done by children on 21 March, which is the first day of spring and an unofficial truants' day.
    The most colourful religious feast before Easter is Palm Sunday, celebrated in churches across the country to commemorate Christ's triumphant entry into Jerusalem. The main attribute associated with that day are the palms. Despite the name, they hardly resemble the real palm branches with which Jesus was greeted in the Holy City. Typically, they are bouquets of common box, dried flowers and willow twigs. Some regions are noted for particularly impressive palms, several metres high and decorated with coloured ribbons, dyed grasses, dried or artificial flowers. In the past it was believed that a palm blessed at a mass has special properties; for example, it can prevent disease. After the mass, people would hit one another with their palms, exchanging wishes of health, wealth and bumper crops.
    On Holy Saturday people bring baskets of their Easter fare to church for a special blessing for all the different Easter foods. This typically Polish tradition dates back to the 14th century. Originally, only a baked lamb made of bread  was blessed, but today the basket should contain at least seven kinds of food, each with its own symbolism. Bread, ensuring good fortune, is in Christianity first and foremost a symbol of Christ's body. Eggs stands for re-birth, life's victory over death. Salt is a life-giving mineral, once believed to keep away all evil. Smoked meat ensures health, fertility and abundance. Cheese represents friendship between man and nature. Horseradish is a symbol of strength and physical fitness. Cake (usually an Easter pound cake, round wheat cake and mazurek) was the last item to appear in the Easter basket and it symbolises skills and perfection. Tradition has it that the cake should be home-made. Nowadays some people also have chocolate and tropical fruits in their Easter baskets. This custom developed during the Communist period, when chocolate and imported fruit were rarities.

    Easter eggs

    Another Easter custom is the tradition of decorating eggs. The oldest Polish Easter egg comes from the 10th century and was found at an excavation site in Ostrów. Interestingly, it was made in a technique very much like those used today.
    Decorating Easter eggs has become an element of folk culture, with distinct regional differences. Traditionally, before they are dyed the eggs are painted over (using a funnel-like tool) with a pattern in molten wax, which, when dry, will not adsorb the dye and is later scraped away to leave a traced decoration on the painted egg. In some regions, white bulrush cores and coloured wool or miniature paper cut-outs are glued to the egg shell. A Pomeranian variety is an egg in one colour only, obtained by using natural dyes from leaves, tree bark, onion scales, cones, mallow flowers, camomile, reed, nut shells, nettle leaves, larch needles and many other plants. In Silesia, dyed eggs are decorated with elaborate patterns scraped off the dyed shell with a sharp stylus.
    Decorating eggs was once women's handicraft. Dyed or painted eggs were first presented to family members and godchildren, and then, during the week following Easter, to friends. Offering an Easter egg to a boy or girl was seen as a token of affection.

    As tradition requires, the blessed food products are eaten at a ceremonial breakfast after the Resurrection Mass on Easter Sunday. The whole family sits down to a table lavishly laid with hams, sausages, pates, roulades, roast pork loins, a variety of poultry dishes, eggs, pound cakes, mazureks, round wheat cakes, cheesecakes, etc., etc. Hot dishes include żur with white sausage or smoked bacon, horseradish soup with a hard-boiled egg and white sausage, or barszcz consommé, also served with an egg. The table is covered with a snow-white cloth and decorated with Easter eggs, spring flowers, catkins, green cress compositions and the essential Easter lamb made of cake or sugar.
    Easter Monday,  Śmigus-dyngus, is a day on which boys sprinkle girls with water. The original meaning of this ancient custom, which remains extremely popular today, has faded into oblivion. Perhaps it was a rite of purification to ensure fertility. In many places not only women were sprinkled, but the earth and cows as well - for better crops and more milk.
    There are also many local Easter customs. Cracow has its long-established Emaus, a folk festivity commemorating the two disciples' meeting the Risen Jesus on the road to Emaus. Hucksters put up their stalls laden with trinkets, pipes and sweets. Apprentices and farmhands from nearby villages would court girls by hitting them with willow twigs and fighting with sticks to show off. Crowds would gather at churches to see a procession of religious brotherhoods in full outfit, with drums, standards and holy pictures. Today, sadly, traditional toys and crafts on the stalls are being replaced by modern plastic gadgets, but despite that, Emaus is still great fun for both children and adults alike.
     

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