Thursday, December 13, 2012

Christmas Around The World {and Giveaway-CLOSED} - POLAND

This post is by our craft and activities contributor EJ.

We're participating in the Kid Blogger Network's,  "Christmas Around The World Series". Have you been following along? If you missed any of the beginning posts in the series, be sure to check out the introductory post and free-eBook at Living Life Intentionally! You’ll find a linky there, too, with all the other posts about Christmas all around the world! I am so excited to share some Polish Christmas traditions with all of you.

Growing up, I was constantly reminded of my Polish heritage - simply because no one could ever pronounce my last name (which only had one vowel, and a combination of z's, c's, and y's that most people wouldn't even attempt to sound out). Now that I have a much simpler married last name, it's not something I get to talk about as much, and much less obvious. Which is why I love the holidays, because it's an opportunity to teach my children, and share with friends, some of the rich traditions that come from my family.

My favorite part of the Christmas holiday is Christmas Eve, or Wigilia (as is called in Poland). Wigilia is a time spent with family, friends, a LOT of good food, well wishing, and an opportunity to reflect on the birth of Jesus.

Today I am excited to share three traditions of Wigilia, in addition to a special treat and a giveaway!


Prior to setting the table, hay (or straw) is placed under the table cloth.  The hay symbolizes the manger on which the Baby Jesus was born.

Animals are given a little extra for their dinner on Christmas Eve.  Polish legend has it that animals can speak (and be heard by only the pure in heart) on Christmas Eve.  My grandmother only recently found out that my father and Aunt snuck out of the house one year to see if they could hear the cow's speaking (I never found out if they actually did).


There is always an extra place set at the table for an unexpected guest or as a reminder for those family members who could not make it or have passed.  While we did not necessarily set an extra place, my parents always invited people over who were far away from family or did not have a home to go to on Christmas Eve.


Perhaps my favorite tradition.  Prior to beginning the meal, we break and share the Oplatki.  Oplatki is a thin  wafer, embossed with a religious scene (it can usually be found this time of year at your local European/Polish Deli (if you're fortunate to have one) or can be ordered online).

Everyone takes a turn breaking of a piece of the Oplatki, and hands it to another family member while giving them a wish for the new year.

While my daughter was so excited to give a wish and more so to get one from her brother, she wasn't too excited about the taste of the Oplatki (it pretty much tastes like paper).


Although I dreamed of making traditional Polish foods with my children (like pierogi or chrusciki) for this post - I knew that their attention spans, and our crammed schedule would not be conducive to anything that took longer than a few minutes - which is what led to the creation of "The 5 Minute Flag Cookie" - no authentic Polish ingredients, baking or cooking methods - but a Polish "look" nonetheless (and easy/yummy way to learn about the flag):

Items Needed:

  • Graham Crackers (broken in half)
  • White & Red Frosting
  • Plastic knives for spreading frosting
  • Picture of Polish Flag (for reference)

Simply spread equal parts of white and red frosting on half a graham cracker to resemble the Polish Flag. Admire, then devour!


I've looked at several books talking about Polish traditions, but only recently came across Pauline Karwowski's book Wigilia. It has been perfect for explaining to my children in a simple and beautiful way about these, and several other traditions:

Pauline Karwowski, the author of "Wigilia" has kindly offered to give away a copy of this keepsake book to one of our readers (just in time for Christmas).

Here's how you can enter the giveaway:

Mandatory Entry: Share your favorite "Christmas Tradition" in the comment section below along with your email address.

*Extra entries will be given to the first and last individuals who comment.

Entry Guidelines:

  • This giveaway is open for entry from Thursday, December 13th to Saturday, December 15th at 11:59pm (PST)
  • The random entry will be drawn on December 16th and announced on this post. I will notify the winner via email.
  • The winner will need to reply to me within 72 hours of this announcement/email. If there is no response, a new winner will be drawn.
  • See our Official Giveaway Rules for complete guidelines. US Residents only.
Disclosure: Pauline Karwowski provided us with a free copy of Wigilia to giveaway to a Toddler Approved reader.


  1. My favorite "Christmas Tradition" is breaking Oplatiki with my family. I cannot wait to pass down the tradition to my boys.

  2. We read the Christmas Story out of Luke 2 Christmas morning.

  3. We read the Christmas story out of Luke 2 on Christmas morning and take a pic of the person and their new gift to send in the thank you cards. Merry Christmas! T. Newhouse

  4. I LOVED going with my family to cut down a Christmas tree each year. It caused family fights, it was always freezing cold, and now we look back and think it was the most amazing thing we ever did!

  5. we watch the nightmare before christmas on christmas eve.

  6. As the only female in a family full of Polish men (grandpa, uncles, cousins, dad, brother) I was the only one that would lose our awesome last name (Szymczyk). I used to joke that I would be unfortunate and marry someone with a "boring" last name. Sure enough, I ended up marrying a Jones. However, I can say, without a doubt, I am not unfortunate with the man God has provided me with. With that being said, my favorite family tradition that my husband and I started was trying to do a random act of kindness starting December 1 and going until Christmas. Our children are only 2 and 4, so it's fairly new and I must admit, it's hard doing one every day. Now that our daughter is 4 she loves to help me come up with different random acts of kindness. It teaches our children to appreciate giving more than receiving. It's fun to see that my daughter actually gets it...or at least in her own 4 year old world. Thanks for sharing some Polish traditions. Our family has fallen from it and it has put a spark in me to start trying to add some Polish ones to our celebrations. Merry Christmas!

  7. Loved 'visiting' Poland. Very interesting and I loved the interesting traditions you shared. your daugher with the Oplatki on her tongue is WAY cute! And the snack is perfect for all us busy moms.

    Thanks for joining us in our Christmas Around the World!
    Beth =-)

  8. email address is

  9. Excellent and clearly written post with helpful photos! I learned so much from this and the others posts in this series. Thank you for explaining this so well!

  10. Love learning about other cultures and how they celebrate a holiday. Thanks for this wonderful post!

  11. When we lived in California, we ate tamales at my friend's house down the street who was Mexican.

  12. Our favorite Christmas tradition is to have several different Nativity scenes throughout our home. Some are made from wood, cloth, paper and clay. Each time we pass the Nativity scene we are reminded of the "true" meaning of Christmas.
    I would love to win the giveaway as my son's kindergarten class this year was assigned the country Poland for their cultural enrichment day!!

    1. Please make sure to leave your email so we can contact you if you win!

  13. My favorite Christmas tradition is family dinner with my big Polish family (with everyone arguing about everyone's "limit" of pierogies so we don't run out haha!) and then attending midnight Mass! Thank you!

  14. We watch Charlie Brown Christmas with popcorn and appetizers the night before Christmas eve. Then, we read the Christmas story from Luke 2 together by the light of the Christmas tree. (

  15. I love Christmas Eve. It`s amazing time.


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