Christmas, Ethnographic Museum, Krakow

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Christmas in the peasant calendar is a cycle of holidays whose symbolism combines Christian content with the echo of pagan rituals. It is the time of the winter solstice when days are becoming longer and the light conquers darkness. It was believed that whatever happened at that unique time would influence the year ahead. All members of the household would sit at a table to a generous (if possible) meal on Christmas Eve. It was believed that the deceased would come too and there was a free seat and an open door left for them. Christmas Eve was supposed to be an evening of reconciliation. The custom of breaking the wafer, which exists in Poland only, also applied to pets and coloured wafers were prepared for them. Both white and coloured wafers were used in the creation of decorations: cut-outs, stars and ‘worlds’ made of wafer glued with saliva, hung from the ceiling and, later, also on Christmas trees. The Christmas tree (spruce, pine or fir) appeared in Polish town homes towards the end of the 18th century and at the turn of the 20th century in rural areas. Before that, the ‘podłaźniczka’– the top of a spruce, pine or fir – was hung from the ceiling. A green tree appearing at home in winter symbolised a life reborn, the sun, youth and vital forces. Hay, sheaves, grain and bundles of straw symbolised abundance, multiplicity and fertility.