HOW TO: CELEBRATE CHRISTMAS AT POLISH-LEMKO HOME


At my family home we celebrate Christmas twice a year.

Yes, twice a year.

Why?

Here you have few words of explanation: my father’s parents were Roman Catholics, and my mother’s parents were Greek Catholics (they were Lemkos who make a small ethinc minority).

According to the Julian calendar, members of the Greek Catholic church celebrate Christmas 13 days after members of the Roman Catholic church do it. When I was a child, we celebrated Christmas at home twice on 24th December, and 6th January to allow my mother’s parents do it in their own way. This family Christmas custom survived even later when my grandparents died.

Nowadays, it is a valuable opportunity to meet for my family and my parents’ friends who have got Lemko roots (in my family village there are a lot of families making next generations of southeastern Poland’s Lemko population deportated into this region within Vistula Operation in 1947).

Even that Christmas starts on 25th December, the day before Christmas - Christmas Eve - seems to be for us the most important day of that holiday.

10:00 AM
On Christmas Eve I am used to turning off my alarm clock and sleeping as long as possible. Then, when I wake up, I can already hear my parents' voices coming from the kitchen.

I go there directly from bed to have my breakfast in pyjama and give my best wishes as well as gift to my mom on her name day (her name is Ewa; Jełka in Lemko language).

During our chat my mom (as every year) quibbles that somebody put a towel on a radiator next night (according to one of old Lemko's customs, in the night before the Chistmas Eve all the radiators need to stay bald, without any clothes. Otherwise, people who spend the night at this home will be suffering from runny nose in the whole next year.

11:00 AM
After breakfast I usually do a quick house cleaning and make last Christmas decorations. Sometimes I laso decorate a Christmas tree. We usually do it last minute. And, of course, I pack presents for my parents which I bought together with my two sisters.

1:00 PM
We don't eat any lunch that day. Instead of it, we eat delicious cakes made by my mom a day before.

2:00 PM
We spend our time together on last preparations of dishes for the Christmas Eve which we diversify by hanging on a phone and giving wishes to other members of family and friends who can't be with us that day.

4:00 PM
It is time when we make a Christmas table, remebering about leaving one place for an unexpected guest. Here first thing which we do is spreading an armful of hay under a white tablecloth.

5:00 PM
When everything is on tip top, we dress festive clothes, and sit next to the Christmas table which is covered by 12 traditional Polish dishes (for instance: borscht, mushroom soup, Russian dumplings, uszka) to celebrate the Christmas Eve by praying and eating prepared food.

As it is customary in Roman Catholic church, we start the evening meal by sharing a special wafer when exchanging Christmas greetings, and than, as it is customary in Lemko tradition, we eat garlic dipped in salt. And there is no exception - even children need to do it. Because according to my mother's parents, this custom has the power to make us healthy in the whole next year.

7:00 PM
After meal we go together to the living room where gifts are already waiting for us under the Christmas tree.

No, I don't believe in the Santa Claus anymore, but my parents still do it.

To be honest, I find it charming in its way. Moreover, sometimes we spend the Christmas Eve with my sisters' children among whom some of them still believe in the Santa Claus.

8:00 PM
Enjoying our Christmas gifts, we spend the evening and night on chatting and watching films (by the way, I used that time to write this post).

Sometimes we are visited by star singers - children dressing as "The Three Kings", carrying a star on a field. They sing Christmas carols for which they are rewarded with candies or money.

11:00 PM
I go to bed to rest well, and to have energy next day when our home will be full of the nearest and dearest arrived from different part of Poland.

So this is how I've spent the Christmas Eve since my childhood.

Meanwhile, Happy Christmas to you wherever you are, and regardless of holiday you are celebrating at your home.

PHOTO BY Róża Błaś