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Polish Culture & Polish Traditions | A Guide

The Republic of Poland is a beautiful nation in central Europe. It has been home to tribes of humans since 10,000 BCE. During late antiquity, it was inhabited by a group called the Polans, which is how the country got its name in early Medieval times. The lifestyle of these early inhabitants was the beginning of Polish culture. The Polish people, including many proud Americans of Polish descent, have a fascinating culture. There are interesting Polish traditions, foods, and history that are well worth learning about.

Polish Culture
Polish culture has evolved throughout its history. The country has been through some tumultuous times but the people remain happy and proud.

Family is important to the Polish people. Traditional families are patriarchal but mothers play an important role in keeping the family together. Children are raised to be respectful and obey their parents. Nevertheless, the kids are taught to be independent. Togetherness is important to a Polish family and eating meals with everyone is a big part of that. Grandparents generally play a major role in the lives of the children.


The vast majority of Poles are Catholic and Christmas is a joyous holiday that families celebrate together. There are many traditions that are beloved and practiced by Polish families during this season.

  • Christmas Eve Dinner - A dinner on Christmas Eve is a Polish tradition that begins with the entire family praying together. It's a feast with 12 dishes to represent the 12 apostles. Before beginning to eat, the family breaks and shares oplatek, Christmas wafers. As they do this, they wish each other prosperity and good health.
  • Christmas Carols - There are thousands of Polish Christmas carols and the people love to sing them, often doing so at the dinner table. This tradition dates back more than a hundred years, and a radio survey found that 80% of Polish families engage in it every year.
  • Extra seat - When setting the table for Christmas dinner in Poland, an extra seat is placed at the table. This additional place setting is put on the table just in case an unexpected guest drops by. Poles are quite hospitable.
  • Christmas candy - Christmas sweets and candies are loved and consumed by Polish children (and adults) as a part of the holiday season.
Christmas is a favorite time of year for many people throughout the world and this is certainly true of the Polish people. Interesting Polish Customs The Poles have some customs that may seem very unusual.

Wedding Customs
You may have heard about the incredible celebration of a Polish wedding. Here are a couple of interesting wedding customs:
  • Poprawiny - You may have heard about the incredible celebration of a Polish wedding. Poprawiny is the custom of having a second party the day after the first. This is not merely a brunch but a full-blown party. Some couples will even celebrate on the third day. Polish people used to celebrate for three or four days every time there was a wedding.
  • Ozcepiny - Another unusual wedding custom, ozcepiny happens at the reception when the bride's veil is removed and tossed to unmarried girls. In the past, the bride's hair was cut short and a cap is placed on her head. This tradition symbolizes her transition from a maiden to a married woman. Some Poles still practice the hair-cutting ceremony. There are numerous games such as passing oranges from under your chin to another person without using your hands. Wild dancing is also common with people pairing up with anyone and everyone.

Spring Custom
A Slavic goddess connected to winter, nature, and death, Marzanna is also the name of a centuries-old tradition that is still practiced to this day. Each year on the first day of spring, people make an effigy out of straw and canvas and cover it with ribbons of multiple colors. The doll is then burned and drowned in a river. Although pagan religions were outlawed in the 11th Century, many Poles still practice this rite of driving away winter and encouraging the arrival of spring. Poland is a fascinating country with many traditions that are unique and meaningful to the people.

Polish Food

Polish food is hearty and delicious. You'll have to take a day off of your diet when dining Polish-style. Many foods have become popular in the U.S. thanks to Polish immigrants who make traditional meals, especially in communities in cities like Chicago.

  • Pierogies- The best-known Polish food in America is pierogies. These are dumplings consisting of a thin dough stuffed with savory fillings such as meat, potatoes, and mushrooms, or sweet fillings such as cherries, blueberries, and strawberries.
  • Golabki- Cabbage is a common vegetable in Polish culture and golabki is a delicious mix of rice, pork, and mushrooms wrapped in white cabbage leaves.
  • Bigos- Bigos is a hunter's stew and is considered the national dish of Poland. It contains meat or sausage, sauerkraut, mushrooms, onions, prunes, and spices. Poles love it and it is definitely something everyone should try.

Polish Traditions
The traditions of the Polish can be unique and are important to their sense of identity and pride in their heritage.

People of Polish descent are known for their often lengthy surnames. Polish names usually end in a suffix, which adds to their length. These suffixes have masculine and feminine endings. Polish women generally take their husband's last name when they marry but with the feminine equivalent of the masculine ending. Polish surnames sometimes reflect the city or region in which the family originated.

A big part of Polish culture is proper etiquette. Appearances are important and people generally dress well and avoid going barefoot when in public. Courtesy, being polite, and being helpful are also encouraged at all times. When speaking with another person it is considered bad manners to place your hands in your pockets. In addition, being on time is an important part of Polish etiquette.

Poland is a nation with a long and fascinating history. Polish culture evolved through various eras. The Poles are honest, friendly, and family-oriented. People who live in Poland as well as people of Polish descent who live in other countries are proud of their country and their heritage.