A Polish Christmas in Merthyr
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Luszcz family (photo by Laura Mochan)

A Polish Christmas

Laura Moch

Christmas is a special time of year for many. The time spent with family, the loving giving and sharing, the traditions… We have our individual traditions and as communities we also have collective traditions.

I learned a lot about different nationalities and how they celebrate Christmas, but unfortunately until recently I didn’t know much about Poles and how they celebrate Christmas, so I met up with a local family and asked them…

Elzbieta and Przemyslaw Luszcz have lived in Merthyr Tydfil for 13 years. They have two little sons, Jakub and Patryk. Like the vast majority of Poles I know, they work hard and are very family oriented.

Christmas is a much celebrated time of year for them and they are looking forward to a well-deserved break to celebrate and spend with family and friends – many of whom will be traveling to spend Christmas with them.

The Luszcz family begins their celebrations on December 6th, known in their culture as St. Nicholas Day/Santa Claus Day or “Mikolaja”. This day was once the only day when Christmas gifts were given in Poland.

Tradition has it that Saint Nicholas comes dressed in luminous robes with a crosier resembling a shepherd’s crook as he descends from heaven; He is accompanied by an angel and they travel on horseback or in a sleigh pulled by a white horse when visiting houses.

After writing their wish lists to Santa Claus in advance, the children receive small gifts and sweets, which are hung under pillows, in their boots, shoes or stockings in anticipation the night before (the larger gifts are saved for Christmas Day).

Poland also has an alternative to Krampus (who is better known to the Welsh) known as “Starman” (Gwiazdor); an equally quirky character who can threaten children with a Birkenstock before they open their presents if they misbehave…

If possible, the family also takes their annual Christmas picture around this time of year. And the children start decorating various Christmas cookies that their mothers have baked ready for the occasion.

A free seat at the table

Christmas Eve is more important to the family than Christmas Day. Christmas Eve (Wigilia) is important to them as it is the time when they celebrate the true meaning of Christmas.

They follow the tradition of placing hay under a colorful tablecloth to symbolize the newborn Jesus being placed in a manger.

They await the sight of the first star in the sky (the sighting of the first star symbolizes the Star of Bethlehem) before sitting down to eat 12 delicious dishes (none of which contain meat) such as fish, pasta, red beetroot, nuts and honey. They do this to commemorate the 12 apostles.

During this festival, the family also shares what is known as an “oplatek” – an unleavened wafer embossed with a religious image (similar to communion). Each participant in the celebration receives one and then shares it with everyone present.

During this time they exchange good wishes before sitting down to eat – this act symbolizes the breaking of bread at the Last Supper. The family, also according to the old Polish tradition, always lovingly leaves a free seat at the table for everyone who needs food and shelter.

After the family has finished eating, they then sing Christmas carols together, as is also the custom. Soon after, they will either put presents under the tree or open some together. This signals the imminent end of their cherished Christmas Eve traditions.


Elzbieta and Przemyslaw do their best to go to midnight mass every year, but they don’t always make it as they work long hours leading up to the day.

They tell me that their children’s excitement is contagious once December 6th arrives and lasts well past Christmas Day (Christmas Day and Boxing Day are known as Day 1 and Day 2 of Christmas in Polish culture), and so it lasts Occasion at their house for a long time.

Christmas Eve is party time! They open their presents once they’re all together, start dinner (a dinner very similar to ours in Wales, with chicken or turkey and all the trimmings – although some have fish for dinner), turn on the Christmas music and rejoice to see themselves, their visiting friends and family.

I asked if you thought a Welsh Christmas was very different, but you don’t see much of a difference. As Elzbieta said, “We are individuals too and will do things our own way, even if we still follow traditions. Christmas in Wales is just as gift-giving, enjoyable and warm.

Wesołych Świąt/Nadolig Llawen to the Luszcz family and to all our Polish families and friends across Wales.

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