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How did Christmas Eve use to be celebrated in the Pomorskie region?  Many of those traditions are still cultivated today. However, there are some which had long disappeared or have been modified. We did some research on the past Pomeranian Christmas customs in the regions of Żuławy, Kociewie and Kaszuby.

The Christmas traditions of Kociewie – leaving an empty seat for the souls of ancestors and no eavesdropping on animals

It was believed that the atmosphere of the Christmas Eve can set a mood for an entire year. Therefore, each detail of celebrating this day had to be perfect.  One couldn’t borrow anything on this day, since, according to the local belief, luck could vanish from one’s house along with the borrowed item. Farm animals got special treatment on Christmas Eve, and on this one day of the year they had the power of speaking human language, but couldn’t be eavesdropped on then, as they could foretell a person’s death. Children decorated the Christmas tree with cookies, fruits and paper cut-outs. The moment the first star appeared in the evening sky everyone sat at the table, on which hay was put under the tablecloth. It was customary for girls to pull straws from underneath to see what their future husband will look like. After sharing the Christmas wafer the family ate supper – the most common dish was herring, either served with potatoes or stuffed with mushrooms. Wealthier families had on their tables such delicacies as: poppy seed noodles, cabbage with mushrooms, dumplings with cabbage and fish. Those were traditionally washed down with a dried fruit drink called Kompot, whose spicy and smoky aroma spread around the entire household. There always was one spare seat at the table – left for the lost souls of the ancestors or for some frostbitten wanderer. Santa Claus visited the youngest ones. And he definitely wasn’t the friendly, bearded old man, with a gift-filled sack on his back. He wore a frightening mask on his face. In one hand he held the bag with presents, of course, but in the other he held a rod. After checking if the kids had all the prayers properly memorized, he listed their good & bad deeds. The good kids earned presents, the not so good ones got whipped. After the supper the table was left to be cleaned afterwards and the whole family went to church to attend a midnight mass.

The Kashubian Christmas traditions – a sheaf of rye instead of a Christmas tree and The Grim Whistler

Gòdë – this word means Christmas in Kashubian language. In the past, in some houses the hosts put up a sheaf of rye, whose presence was supposed to ensure a rich harvest in the upcoming year. In the second half of the 19th century the sheaf of rye gave way to the coniferous tree, which was decorated with cookies, apples and with hand-made ornaments made of hay or paper. One of the highlights of the evening was the visit of the carol singers, called Gwiôzdki in Kashubian.  They were disguised as.: the merrily dancing Old Man and Hag, a prankish Devil, The Death with a scythe, a reminder of transient nature of life, farm animals and The Whistler, leading the whole ensemble. The Whistler was the counterpart of  the present-day Santa Claus, he was giving away presents to children as a treat for reciting a prayer. The well-behaved children got candy, the naughty ones were threatened with the rod. Meeting The Whistler must have been a terrifying experience for the kids, as he was wearing a calfskin mask on his face. The dishes served at supper were rather humble and included dried fruit, mushrooms, beans, cabbage, sweet noodle soup or various fish. The leftovers were fed to the farm animals, who on that one day of the year had the ability to speak human language. However, just like in Kociewie, it was better not to eavesdrop on them then, as it could bring you bad luck or even death.

The Christmas traditions of Żuławy – sharing a coloured Christmas wafer with farm animals

In Żuławy region Advent was traditionally a time when the pig slaughter took place. Both men and women restrained from their daily chores, such as soil cultivation or linen spinning. All families started preparations for one of the most important days in the entire year – Christmas time. The smell of gingerbread or doughnuts was floating above every household. The Christmas Eve supper gathered the whole family, even the distant relatives, around the table. Hay was placed under the tablecloth and one spare seat was left for an unexpected visitor. The wafer (usually coloured pink or blue) was also shared with farm animals. The host was the one who went to share the wafer with the cows and horses, in order to thank the animals or to gain their favour so as they do not mention anything bad to the other family members while having the ability to speak human language after midnight.

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