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Krakow's Christmas Traditions

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Christmas in Krakow 

Thanks to its climate, spectacular architecture and rich traditions that enliven the festive season, Krakow may well aspire to the title of the world's capital of white Christmas. 

Also, the Yuletide lasts longer in the Krakow region than anywhere else – Christmas trees glitter and carols resound here till the end of January.

yearly contest for the Nativity scene builders on the central square of Krakow

Warming-up to Christmastide 

starts at the outset of December. Seasonal street decorations and window-dressing, omnipresent noel tunes, shopping spree, universal well-wishing, etc. – it may look alike elsewhere but the fairyland scenery of Krakow’s numerous Gothic churches and Baroque palaces is unique. And Santa Claus keeps on visiting every kid in the city early, i.e. on December 6, his name day, to return later on the Christmas Eve (though purists maintain that in Poland it's an angel's job to leave presents by the tree). Another highlight comes on the first Thursday of December with the yearly contest of famous Krakow Christmas cribs on the city's central Grand Square (Rynek Glowny)

Christmas Eve celebration

begins when the first star appears in the sky, with sharing an ‘oplatek’ wafer with everybody present and wishing him nice things to happen in the next twelve months. Then comes traditional twelve-course common dinner of time-honored meatless dishes (fish, and notably carp, being a must), an additional cover always laid for an unexpected guest and a handful of hay put under the tablecloth for good luck. After the meal there is time for caroling and unwrapping Christmas gifts. The faithful pack into the beautiful Krakow churches at midnight when the special ‘Pasterka’ mass is said in remembrance of shepherds adoring newly born Christ. And on the Christmas Eve immediately after midnight animals allegedly can speak their minds in Polish. 

Christmas Day  

and notably the following holiday on December 26 are popular occasions for family reunions visiting friends. 

Christmas market in Krakow

Krakow’s Christmas market takes place on the city’s huge Rynek Glowny central square, amid the Old Town historic district, every year. It starts in the last days of November and lasts through December 26th or even longer, sometimes to the 6th of January i.e. the festival of Epiphany called Swieto Trzech Kroli in Poland, a public holiday in this country. 

Christmas market in Krakow

Wooden stands sell a wide range of Christmas decorations and sweets as well as other goodies. And open-air eateries offer hearty meals and mulled wine. Plus there are additional attractions such as shows, folk dances, concerts of carols, etc. 

Christmas tree  

It is obligatory at home and at work. The more so that everyone expects to find a Christmas gift under it. And Krakow’s hand-painted glass decorations are known worldwide. But watch out for mistletoe hanging – now rarely –from the ceiling: according to tradition those standing under it cannot refuse a kiss . 

Krakow Christmas cribs  

Krakow's szopka creches are fabulous, colorful and glittering portable theaters for the traditional Nativity puppet plays, and building them remains a consuming hobby for some in the city. At the same time amateur and professional companies of players stage the Nativity live shows in the holiday season. And seeing the Nativity various scenes in numerous Krakow churches also is a popular family activity. 

Polish carols 

Poland knows hundreds of native carols, often centuries-old. Apart from sweet lullabies they sound pretty lively as most rely on traditional dancing tunes. 

Traditional ‘oplatek’ Christmas greetings. 

The Polish Christmas oplatek wafers are wallet-size, paper-thin and crisp leafs of bread, white or colored, with an impression of the Nativity scene. In Poland before the Christmas Eve dinner those present approach one another with an ‘oplatek’ wafer in hand and offer wishes. When approached, everybody listens to wishes, says wishes in return, breaks off a bit from the other person’s wafer, eats it, and kisses him or her on both cheeks. 

Oplatek’ also means popular December and January social gatherings in Poland where invited guests, even perfect strangers, practice the ritual among themselves in addition to regular cocktail-party socializing. And it is usual to visit friends and family before or over the Christmastide to share the ‘oplatek’ wafer with them and exchange wishes. 

‘Kolednicy’ carol singers  

Carolers still go from door to door during the Yuletide but nowadays schoolchildren have replaced expert adult performers of old. Nevertheless, for their efforts the minors expect small change rather than sweets.

Note: Unlike eateries all shops are closed in Krakow on December 25th and December 26th so get your daily necessities in advance. In emergency you may resort to stores at gas stations that usually stay open all the time. And a number of chemist shops are designated to be on duty and sell medicines. 

 

Krakow's central square before Christmas by the end of the 19th century

Krakow's szopka Nativity scenes


Krakow Festivals
Hardly a month passes in Krakow without some time-honored occasion for common festivities or colorful celebration

Easter in Krakow
The paramount Christian feast has a special meaning and a distinct quality in springtime Krakow with its rich Catholic traditions and abundance of beautiful
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Krakow Folk Traditions
Krakow region has always been rich in colorful folk traditions, handed down from generation to generation.


Events
Updates on upcoming cultural events in Krakow.

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