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Polish customs, especially at Christmas time, are both beautiful and meaningful.
The provisions for Christmas begin many days before the real celebration. Nearly everywhere women are cleaning windows in apartments and houses just before Christmas. The insides of the houses are also cleaned thoroughly. It is believed that if a house is dirty on Christmas Eve, it will remain dirty all next year.
Weather-forecasting is quite popular during Christmas. Everything that falls away on Christmas, letting in the atmospheric condition, has an impact on the following year. The weather on Easter and throughout the next year supposedly depends upon the weather on Christmas (snow, rain, and so on). Only a white Christmas is regarded a real Christmas; therefore, everybody is happy when there is fresh snow outside.
Some ceremonies take place before the Christmas Eve supper. Among farmers, a traditional ritual is the blessing of the fields with holy water and the placing of crosses made from straw into the four corners. It is likewise considered that creatures can speak with a human representative.
Straw is put under the white tablecloth. Some maidens predict their future from the straw. After supper, they pull out blades of straw from beneath the tablecloth. A green one foretells marriage; a dead one signifies waiting; a yellow one predicts spinsterhood and a very short one foreshadows an early tomb.
Poles are famous for their hospitality, especially during Christmas. In Poland, an additional seat is saved for somebody unknown at the supper table. No one should be left alone at Christmas, so strangers are welcomed to the Christmas dinner. This is to remind us that Mary and Joseph were also looking for shelter. In Poland, several homeless people were interviewed after Christmas. More or less of them were invited to strangers’ houses for Christmas; others that were not needed inside the households but were granted piles of food.
It is still firmly believed that whatever occurs on Wigilia (Christmas Eve) has an impact on the coming year. So, if an argument should arise, a quarrelsome and troublesome year will follow. In the morning, if the first visiting person is a man, it means good luck; if the visitor is a woman, one might expect misfortune. Everyone, however, is beaming when a mailman comes by, for this signifies money and success in the future. To secure good luck and to keep evil outside, a branch of mistletoe is hung above the front doorway. Eventually, old grudges should end. If, for some reason, you do not speak with your neighbor, now is the time to forget old, ill feelings and to exchange good wishes.
Traditionally, the Christmas tree is dressed on the Wigilia day – quite an event for kids. The custom of having a Christmas tree was First introduced in Alsace (today a region of eastern France) at the end of the 15th century. Three centuries later, it was common around the globe. Early on, the tree was decorated with apples to commemorate the forbidden fruit – the apple of paradise (the garden of Eden). Today, the Christmas tree is adorned with apples, oranges, candies and small chocolates wrapped in colorful paper, nuts wrapped in aluminum foil, hand-blown glass ornaments, candles or lights, thin strips of bright paper (angel’s hair), and home-made paper chains. The latter, nonetheless, has become rarer because commercially produced aluminum foil chains are being traded.
Christmas and Santa Claus Day are not celebrated at the same time in Poland, but preferably three weeks apart. Santa Claus (called Mikolaj) Day is celebrated on December 6th, the name day of St. Nicholas. This is when St. Nicholas visits some children in person or secretly during the nighttime.
Christmas Day, called the first holiday by the Poles, is spent with the family at home. No chatting, cleaning, nor cooking are permitted on that day; only previously cooked food is stirred up. This is a day of enjoyment, for Jesus was born. On Christmas Day, people start to observe the weather very carefully. It is thought that each day foretells the weather for a certain month of the next year. Christmas Day predicts January’s weather, St. Stephen’s Day impacts February’s, etc.
St. Stephen’s Day is known as the second holiday. This is a day for visiting and exchanging Christmas greetings. When night begins to come down, you can hear stamping and jingling, followed by Christmas carol singing outside. Carolers begin their wandering from home to home. Herod, a traditional form of caroling, is a live performance usually played by twelve young boys. Dressed in unique costumes, they include King Herod, a field marshal, a knight, a soldier, an angel, a devil, death, a Jew, Mary, shepherds, and sometimes the Three Kings and an accordionist. They sing simple songs and carols, and when let into a house, perform scenes from King Herod’s life. Oration and songs vary and depend upon to whom they are being addressed: the owner of the house, a young woman about to be married, a widow, etc. At the end, the performers are offered refreshments and some money. Also popular is caroling with a crib (szopka) and with a star. Usually, those are items are carried by three caroling teenagers. They, as well, are moved over just about money.
The Breaking of the Oplatek
One of the most beautiful and most revered Polish customs is the breaking of the oplatek. The use of the Christmas wafer (oplatek) is not only by native Poles in Poland, but also by people of Polish ancestry all over the world.
The oplatek is a thin wafer made of flour and water. For table use, it is white. In Poland, colored wafers are used to make Christmas tree ornaments. In the past, the wafers were baked by organists or by religious and were distributed from house to house in the parish during Advent. Today, they are produced commercially and are sold in religious stores and homes. Sometimes an oplatek is sent in a greeting card to loved ones away from home.
On Christmas Eve, the whole family gets together and waits impatiently for the show of the first superstar. With its first gleam, they all approach a table covered with hay and a snow-white tablecloth. A vacant chair and a place setting are reserved for an unexpected guest, always provided for inhospitable Polish homes
The father or eldest member of the family reaches for the wafer breaks it in half and gives one-half to the mother. Then, each of them breaks a small part of each other’s piece. They wish one another a long life, good health, joy, and happiness, not only for the holiday season, but also for the new year and for many years to come. This ceremony is repeated between the parents and their children as well as among the children; then, the wafer and good wishes are exchanged with all those present, including relatives and even strangers. When this natural action is over, they all sit-down and enjoy a tasty though meatless supper, after which they sing koledy (Christmas carols and pastorals) until time for midnight Mass, as well known as Pasterka (“the Mass of the Shepherds”).
By Halina Ostańkowicz–Bazan
|Polish Constitution of May 3rd, 1791
Jan Matejko’s 9×15 ft painting executed on the centenary of the passage of the Constitution shows Stanisław August Poniatowski, King of Poland, being born in triumph from the Royal Palace, seen in the background where the Constitution had just been passed, to Warsaw’s St. John’s Cathedral. The painting hangs in the National Museum in Warsaw.
The Constitution of May 3, 1791
By Hon. Carl L. Bucki
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.” These words, so close to the hearts of all true patriots of freedom, begin the second paragraph of the American Declaration of Independence. But we must not attribute their origin solely to Thomas Jefferson, for these words are identical to those of Wawrzyniec Goslicki, a Polish philosopher whose writings were to be found in Mr. Jefferson’s library. How could it be that a Pole might supply the words of inspiration for the founding of the United States of America? One should not be surprised. Intellectually and philosophically, America and Poland have shared a common devotion to the cause of liberty and freedom. This devotion is what we celebrate today, on this, the 205th anniversary of the Polish Constitution of May 3, 1791.
The mere concept of a written constitution is itself a revolutionary idea. No longer is government to be based on the whims of a monarch or the commands of a dictator. In the history of the world’s nations, the first written constitution was that adopted by the United States of America in 1787. The second written constitution was that which Poland adopted in 1791. Geographically distant, Poland and the United States shared both a kindred spirit and a common challenge. In contrast to all of its powerful neighbors, Poland in the late 18th century was remarkably democratic. Its kings were elected and its parliament, or Sejm, possessed broad legislative authority. Although Poland extended political privileges to only about ten percent of the adult population, this percentage closely approximated political access in America, where suffrage excluded slaves and was generally limited to male property owners. By the 1780’s, both of these democratic experiments were in serious danger. In America, the Articles of Confederation had proven itself to be a dismal failure. In Poland, the liberum veto allowed any deputy to block legislation. So ineffective was the government that it was no longer able to defend itself against the intrigues of Russia, Austria, and Prussia.
Both Poles and Americans came to realize that freedom is not so much a privilege to enjoy, as it is a reward for those who will honor and defend. After a long summer of debate, the Constitutional Convention approved its proposal for a new government for the United States on September 17, 1787. In the following year, on October 6, 1788, the four-year Sejm began its deliberations. Under the leadership of Ignacy Potocki and Hugo Kollataj, extensive reforms were incorporated into a Constitution that was approved by King Stanislaw August Poniatowski on the third day of May 1791.
We shall never know whether the Constitution of May 3, 1791, might have provided the structure for true reform in Poland. Sadly, it was in effect for only a short time. Russia, Austria and Prussia acted quickly to occupy the territories of Poland, and by 1795, Poland had ceased to exist, except in the hearts of its people. In contrast, the United States could continue its democratic experiment in relative isolation. Protected by a vast ocean from the oppressive monarchies of Europe, the United States enjoyed the opportunity to evolve into a truly democratic society. That process was neither quick nor easy. Witness the struggles for political reform in America, beginning with the adoption of the Bill of Rights in 1791, the abolition of slavery as a consequence of a most tragic civil war, the extension of suffrage to women, and the civil rights movement of more recent years.
Why should we honor Poland’s Constitution of 1791? Clearly, the Constitution never fulfilled its immediate and short term objectives. Poland did not survive the second and third partitions, and as a political entity, it was effectively eliminated from the map of Europe for more than a century. In operation for only a few years, the Constitution never developed into a full expression of political liberty. Of what relevance is the Constitution to us, who are removed from its focus both by thousands of miles and by many generations?
We honor the Polish Constitution of 1791 not so much for what it achieved as for what it represents. It is a symbol of the Polish people and of their struggle for liberty, justice, and honor. The American Constitution was drafted by men who had rebelled from the tyranny of the British crown, and who sought to escape the burdens of taxation. The Polish Constitution was written by the aristocracy. With the noblest of intentions, its authors saw government as an instrument of service for the common good. They recognized that government must serve not the interests of the few, but the welfare of the entire nation. With this thought, they were prepared to sacrifice their wealth and good fortunes for the cause of a free and independent nation. Indeed, the Constitution of 1791 epitomized a recognition that duty and responsibility were the true foundations of liberty. This unparalleled sense of generosity was most profound, so much so that it earned admiration from all ends of the political spectrum. The Prussian statesman Ewald von Hertzberg would express the fears of European conservatives. The Poles, he wrote, “have given the coup de grace to the Prussian monarchy by voting a constitution . . . . How can we defend our state . . . Against a numerous and well-governed nation.” Meanwhile, on the left, Karl Marx could only admire this Constitution when he wrote as follows:
“Despite all its shortcomings, this Constitution looms up against the background of Russian, Prussian, and Austrian barbarism as the only work of liberty which Eastern Europe has ever created independently and it emerged exclusively from the privileged class, from the nobility. The history of the world has never seen another example of such nobility of the nobility.”
Although we may reject the contrasting philosophies both of von Hertzberg and of Marx, their respect for the Polish Constitution reveals the inherent integrity of that instrument. Apart from any political point of view, the world can only admire the sincerity of the Constitution’s purpose and objectives.
The Polish Constitution of May 3, 1791, is a reflection of the Polish spirit, a spirit that is devoted to truth and justice at all times, under all circumstances, and despite all impediments. Its words, its concepts, its principles are not an exceptional portrait of the Polish character. Rather, they are a shining symbol of the finest qualities of the Polish nation. How else can one explain the survival of Poland despite 120 years of foreign domination? President Woodrow Wilson recognized the vibrancy of this character when he included in his fourteen points the concept of a free and independent Poland. How else could Poland have survived the long period of Communist repression? Surely it is no accident that the downfall of communism began in the shipyards of Gdansk. Surely it is no accident that a native son of Poland now speaks as a defender of liberty from his post as supreme pontiff.
In October 1962, a crowd of 400,000 people greeted President John Kennedy on his visit to Buffalo. Before the largest audience ever to assemble in Western New York, the President expressed well the spirit of the May Third Constitution, when he spoke as follows: “I know that there are some who will say that the people of Poland, however brave, are in a prison from which there is no escape that they will not be permitted to express themselves. But this ignores the driving force . . . of liberty.” Poles have never wavered in their belief “that freedom would triumph in the end. I subscribe to that same belief. Let us remember that [the ideal of freedom] is universal. It knows no oceans, no boundaries, no limitations.”
The Constitution of May 3, 1791, stands for the proposition that free people everywhere must step forward despite all odds, to undertake the burdens of serving as champions of liberty. Truly, this is the belief which we honor today.
The 2016 Hollywood movie, The Intern, starring Robert De Niro explores a novel concept of hiring retired senior citizens as corporate interns – something u
Personal Creative Expression
If we are to learn anything from history about human expression, we know that individuals are constantly evolving creative beings. We are always moving from one cycle of problem-solving to another. We adjust and evolve to solve the most basic problems faced on a daily basis. In other words, we diversify our ability to process information. For example, going for a walk, visiting an art gallery or applying a distantly related model to a problem can also be effective methods of diversifying creative thinking. The latter method — using a distantly related model for a business school presentation — could be utilized in many ways. A bank that wants to provide more streamlined services to customers might use the customer satisfaction benchmarks for timeliness and courtesy levels based out of a fast food restaurant. Both have little in common except for being service-oriented. Nevertheless, looking at how a fast food restaurant manages food, serves customers quickly and promotes new products can provide a wealth of inspiration for a bank.
I hope you like my thoughts.
About teachers lifelong passion to educate the world.
October 5 is the day we commemorate World Teachers’ Day. On this day, we celebrate awareness and appreciation of teachers’ contributions to education and society. Inspire and be inspired by their lifelong passion to educate the world. Thank a teacher today. Click on the thumbnail and build your vocabulary and watch, learn and speak our video lesson about teachers.