John Manke is an active former Bay View resident who is involved in numerous neighborhood organizations, including the Bay View Historical Society, the Humboldt Park Fourth of July Association and the Shore Shore Farmers Market. He believes Bay View has a fine tradition in its past that we do not want to lose in the future.
Christmas traditions in Poland are full of magic and meaning. The customs, which have been passed down through the centuries, are deeply rooted in religion, family, nature, and a love of the land. Christmas Eve is the most anticipated and beautiful day of the year for a Polish family, as winter darkness is suddenly brightened by the appearance of the Christmas star in the night sky, by flickering lights on Christmas trees, and the melodies of Christmas carols fleating from homes and churches.
People prepare for this big holiday during the four weeks of Advent. In Poland this is a time of fasting and prayer, of spiritual preparation for Christmas. One of the most beautiful ceremonies of Advent is a mass called roraty, early-morning service that begins in the dark, with people lighting their torches and candles at special times during the mass. The service symbolizes vigilance and waiting for the coming of Christ. In the evenings, people stay indoors and the family spends time making handmade decorations for the Christmas tree, choinka, from straw, paper, and foodstuffs like nuts and grains.
December 6th is St. Nicolas Day, Dzien Swietego Mikolaja, and it brings a small reprieve to the gray, monotonous days, especially to children, who feel that Christmas is still so far away. Someone in the family was usually selected to be St. Nicholas and, in villages, he would be driven in a sleigh from house to house. He would be dressed in a long white or red robe, wearing a tall headpiece much like a bishop's mitre, a white flowing beard, and in his hand he held a shepherd's staff. He asked children if they were naughty or nice and if they knew their prayers, and then he would give them sweets, nuts, and apples pulled from under his cloak. In case St Nicholas could not make the visit personally, his gifts were placed under the children's pillows or in their shoes during the night.
Information for this article is provided by Polish Women's Alliance of America. PWAA.org 1-888-522-1898.