Traditions and customs of Poland

What traditions and customs are there in Poland?

Details of the customs and traditions of Poland.


Food in daily life

The mainstays of the Polish diet are meat, bread and potatoes. For many Poles, dinner is not a dinner without meat, mainly pork. The bread is consumed and treated with reverence. In the past, if a piece of bread fell to the ground, it was reverently picked up, kissed, and used to make the sign of a cross.

Peasants trace a cross on the bottom of a loaf of bread with a knife before slicing it. Poles consume 136 kg of potatoes per capita per year.

The vegetables consumed are local cool-weather crops such as beets, carrots, cabbage, and legumes (beans, peas, lentils). Another important source of nutrition is milk in various forms, such as fresh or sour milk, sour cream, buttermilk, buttermilk, cheese, and butter.

The sequence of the Polish daily meal depends on the family and the season; however, it usually starts with a hearty breakfast eaten between 5 and 8 in the morning.

Eggs, meat, bread, cheese and cold cuts can be served. Between nine and eleven in the morning, people can have a second breakfast similar to an American bag lunch. Dinner, the main meal of the day, is served between one and five in the afternoon and provides between 40 and 45 percent of the day’s calories. It consists of a large bowl of soup, a main course and dessert.

Salads, when served, are eaten with the main course. On Sundays, appetizers can start the meal. The last meal of the day is a light supper eaten between six and eight in the evening.

It can be a repeat of the breakfast menu or include cold-water fish, aspic dishes, and cooked vegetable salads. In addition, there may be a sweet dish such as pancakes or rice baked with apples or other fruits.

Tea and coffee are served after meals. People differentiate between tea made from tea leaves and tea made from herbs or fruits. In many dialects, the two types of tea have different names.

Tea is consumed more often and coffee is considered a bit special. Vodka was first distilled in Poland in the 16th century and is consumed with food, commonly sausage, dill pickles, or herring, as a chaser.

Food customs on ceremonial occasions

Appointed days and weddings focus on individuals. Because common given names are noted on published calendars along with holidays, people know when to recognize a person’s name day.

Such celebrations typically feature poultry, cakes, and other party foods. At weddings, the bride and groom are greeted with bread and salt (the essentials of life) upon their return from church.

The holiday season is the traditional time for baking cookies, honey-spiced pies, and cheese-crust apple pies. Among the oldest and most traditional Christmas sweets are stingray honey wafers and poppy seeds or crunchy walnuts. Babka, a cake, is another traditional dish that should be taller than it is wide and should be narrower at the top than at the bottom.

The most solemn family gathering of the year is Christmas Eve dinner. The family gathers to share oplatek, a thin white wafer sometimes called angel bread, followed by an odd number of meatless dishes. However, fish is allowed. Traditional dishes include poppy seed noodles and wheat pudding.

For Christmas Day dinner, many feel that the game adds a special touch to the outdoors and go out of their way to get half a hare for the pâté.

Pączki (Polish-style donuts) are the traditional pastries eaten on Shrove Tuesday and Gala Thursday (the start of the pre-Lent carnival season).

At Easter the tradition is to eat blessed food on Holy Saturday. A standard item is hard-boiled eggs. The Easter breakfast includes fresh meat, game and smoked meats. There is a tradition of roast suckling pig with a red egg in the snout.

During the autumn harvest festivals, the fruits of the fields are blessed, cereals and freshly threshed wheat bread are eaten and placed on the graves on All Saints’ Day. On Saint Martin’s Day, the traditional food is a goose.


People usually get married before the age of twenty. Single women in their twenties were considered spinsters, and single men in their twenties were the subject of public censure and ridicule. Both men and women expect to marry, have children, and have only one spouse for life.

Marriage has always been viewed as a holy responsibility, and it is commonly believed that single people or those who have never been married cannot be truly happy and will have a hard time gaining salvation.

Traditionally, most marriages were arranged to improve family fortunes. Love was not important. Formal divorce was difficult. However, one way to escape was for one member of the couple to move away, ostensibly to earn money in a distant place, and not return.


There is a great emphasis on being polite and courteous. Men are expected to kiss women’s hands and behave with decorum. An acceptable gift for women is an odd number of flowers, regardless of whether the woman is the recipient or the presenter.

Most men consider themselves to be judges of a good drink, and for men the standard gift is alcohol. One should always drink from a glass, never directly from a bottle.


Religious beliefs

About 95 percent of Poland’s inhabitants are Roman Catholic, and about 75 percent regularly attend religious services. The other 5 percent are Eastern Orthodox, Protestant and other Christian faiths. Judaism and Muslim are the largest non-Christian religions.

Religious professionals

There is a hierarchy of priests, monks, and nuns as appropriate in the Roman Catholic Church, along with ministers from other Christian denominations. On rare occasions, witches and fortune tellers can still be found.

Rituals and sacred places

The Catholic Church has formal religious services and practices and encourages the preservation of folk culture, such as communal shrines built and maintained by the people and large annual pilgrimages to shrines such as Czȩstochova, Kalwaria, Lanckorona and Piekarnie Śląskie Traditionally, on the Feast of Purification, on February 2, the priests bless the gromnica, the candle used to protect oneself from lightning, disease and general misfortune.

In rural areas, there are religious practices based on the annual cycle of growing seasons and associated agricultural practices and to ensure good luck. When the house is cleaned in preparation for Christmas, one corner is left uncleaned so that some happiness is not lost.

There are many local variations of Christmas activities, but a common trait is bringing samples of crops home and sharing food with the animals. The ubiquitous custom is the evergreen tree, or spruce, found even in Orthodox Jewish homes during the Hanukkah holiday.

Easter was the time of the Resurrection of Christ and of nature. A common rural custom is to sprinkle water on the ground to ensure a bountiful harvest. A popular extension of this practice is the sprinkling of people with water. In many areas, there are follow-up festivities on Easter Monday, the day of the dingo.

In celebration of the shortest night of the year, on Midsummer’s Eve, June 23, people build bonfires and jump over them for purification and protection from evil. In many areas, people float flower garlands in rivers. Traditionally, the hay also begins at this time and June 29 was the time for the fairs.

In the fall, October 28 is dedicated to Saint Jude, the patron saint of the most difficult things to achieve and solutions to seemingly hopeless problems. During World War II, Saint Jude was the patron saint of Underground Poland and is still considered the protector of Polish exiles and homeless wanderers throughout the world.

On November 1, All Saints’ Day, and November 2, All Saints’ Day, candles are placed in cemeteries and places of torment and execution.

Death and the afterlife

Death is visualized as a tall, thin woman dressed in a white sheet and carrying a scythe. Nothing could stop her, but the animals could warn her that she was coming. People preferred death to be quick and painless and to occur as a result of illness rather than without warning.

The dying person was placed on the ground and doors and windows were opened so that the soul could go to heaven. The dead can be buried in their best Sunday clothes.

Traditionally, a house where someone died was considered impure and was marked with a cloth nailed to the door, black if the deceased was an older married man or woman, green if a young man, and white if a young girl.

White cloth and flowers were considered symbols of mourning. The survivors did not wear red. The coffin was made of knotless boards from an evergreen tree. The deceased was placed on a table or in the coffin between two chairs in the main room of the house.

Coins were placed in the left hand, mouth or armpit so that the deceased has cashed in and has no reason to return. Candles were lit and left burning, especially the first night. It was believed that the soul stays around the body, so food and drink were left out in the open.

The wake pusta noc consisted of songs and cries to ward off evil spirits. It was the beggar’s job to do most of the crying. If an enemy reached the stele, it was considered a reprieve.

At the funeral, people said their goodbyes, the women putting their hands on the coffin and the men putting their caps on it. The coffin was closed with wooden pegs. The coffin was carried out of the house feet first, and the cattle and bees had to be notified of their master’s death.

Once the coffin was in the grave, those present (except family members) threw dirt into the grave. The soul went to the Creator and then returned to the body until the priest threw dirt on the coffin. At that time, the soul went to San Pedro to find out his destiny: heaven or hell.

The tombstones were for important people. The common marker was a birch cross with the name, date, and prayer requests, as well as a bush or plant. Kasza (porridge) was presented at the funeral banquet along with vodka with honey. The beggars were also fed.

Masses were celebrated for the dead on the third, seventh, ninth, and fortieth days after death. On the first anniversary of the death, there was a big meal for family, friends, and beggars.

Secular celebrations

National holidays are Constitution Day, May 1 (1791) and Independence Day, November 11 (1918).

The arts and humanities

Arts support

In the last ten years there has been a fundamental change in the constraints that artists face. Before 1989, art was heavily subsidized by the state, but artists were required to produce propaganda material. Furthermore, art was subject to political censorship.

Some subjects and forms of presentation of works of art were prohibited and, in case of violation, could expose the artist to legal sanctions, including imprisonment.

Some artists never exhibited their art publicly. With the fall of socialism, both state support and censorship, except in certain areas like pornography, have disappeared. Consequently, artists are freer politically but have fewer resources.


Oral literature was the oldest genre. In preliterate times and among peasants much later, folk songs, legends, poetry, jokes, and riddles were important artistic expressions. Popular songs dealt with universal themes such as love, pain, and lack of freedom.

Tales and legends dealt with the actions of kings, the contests between knights and dragons, and the deeds of ancient thieves and bandits, as well as the lives of saints. Political jokes and stories and urban legends deal with current events and circulate throughout the country.

Initially, Polish literature was written in Latin and can be said to have begun with the annals of the 10th century. Polish literature began and enjoyed a “golden age” in the 16th century with the writing of Mikolay Rej, who wrote exclusively in Polish and has been called the father of Polish literature, and Jan Kochanowski, the first genuine and great Polish poet.

In the 17th century, Wespazjan Kochowski wrote the first messianic interpretation of Poland’s destiny, a theme developed during the Romantic period by Adam Mickiewicz, Juliusz Slowacki, and Zygmunt Krasiński.

In the 20th century, three Polish writers were awarded the Nobel Prize: Henryk Sienkiewicz, 1905; Wladyslaw Reymont, 1924; and Czeslaw Milosz, 1980. Between 1940 and 1989, there were severe political restrictions on what could be published. At the end of the 20th century the main limitation is economic, based on what the public will buy.

Graphic arts

Poles have participated in all the great artistic movements of Western culture. One of Poland’s first notable sculptors, Wit Stwosz (Veit Stoss), lived during the 15th century. The wooden triptych of the altar of the Church of the Virgin Mary in Krakow is his most famous work.

The first outstanding painter was the Italian Bernardo Bellotto, who at the end of the 18th century painted Polish life. The painting developed in the second half of the 19th century, with Jan Matejko and Henryk Siemiradzki being the best known. Portrait painter Stanislaw Wyspiański also devoted himself to theater and design.

Performing arts

Theater and cinema have a special power in Polish society. People tend to see their own life and history as full of drama and romance, and they love the theater. Going to a performance, whether it’s a play, movie, concert or ballet, is an important social activity, and people tend to see it as a serious and uplifting experience rather than mere entertainment.

The first public theater in Poland was founded in 1763. This stimulated the great popularity of drama and especially comedy in the second half of the 18th century. There were some very influential and important playwrights.

Franciszek Zablocki produced comedies of a very high standard. The best known of him is the “Flirting Dandy”. Mickiewicz’s Dziady (“The Eve of the Ancestors”) combined folklore and mystical atmosphere to create a new kind of romantic drama and offered a new formula for national destiny.

His visionary third part was published in 1832. Franciszek Bohomolec satirized the aristocracy, and Wojciech Boguslawski wrote a popular national comic opera. During the 19th century almost all poets wrote poetry in dramatic form. Some of the most important playwrights were Aleksander Fredro, Slowacki and Stanislaw Wyspianski.

During the twenty years between the world wars, there were no major dramatic events. The best works were written by novelists. After World War II, the communist government attempted to use the theater for propaganda purposes, with mixed success. There has been a revival since 1989.

Polish ballet was built on folk dances, but it is mainly an urban pleasure. Between the world wars, he generally had low standards. After World War II, it received considerable state support and much was done to improve it. It emphasizes classical and folk dance, but there are some modern ballet themes present.

The music has had few official limitations. It is based on the rhythms and melodies of folk music adapted for performance in stately homes and dates back to the Middle Ages. During the Renaissance a distinctive Polish church music flourished. The first great Polish opera was staged in 1794.

The famous composer Frederic Chopin is considered the musical embodiment of the Polish. After World War II, there was a revival of music in Poland. All branches of music are well represented. Popular music is heavily influenced by Western styles. Polish jazz is excellent and has a reputation for experimentation.

Polish cinema dates back to 1909, but it didn’t begin to attract international attention until after World War II. The best known directors abroad are Andrzej Wajda and Roman Polanski.

After 1989, people tended to cut back on consumer spending and movie audiences shrank. In the 1970s, there were 2,500 movie theaters, but by 1992 there were less than 1,000. Foreign films have great appeal.

In 1992, of the 122 new titles submitted, fifteen were Polish and eighty-nine were recent American films. The remainder were from Australian, English, Finnish, French, German and Japanese productions. Since 1989, about half of the films have been co-productions with foreign partners.

Radio and television are attractive sources of entertainment and information. Television offers quality movies and a wide variety of programs in several languages ​​through cable, local channels and satellite connections.

Most families have a VCR. In 1990, more than 6,000 companies sold and rented video cassettes. There is legislation to curb video piracy and an association has been created to protect copyright.

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