Client Spotlight: Have Yourself a Merry Polish Christmas

Client Spotlight: Have Yourself a Merry Polish Christmas

Christmas in Poland is very different from Christmas on Puget Sound, near Seattle Washington, where Kathy Jones and Diane Gale live. For one thing, it’s cold in Poland. On Puget Sound, the weather, while often rainy and gloomy, rarely gets below freezing. Poland has a real winter, with cold, snow, sleigh bells and bundled-up children.

For another thing, the Poles can claim more than a thousand years of venerable Christmas traditions.

Kathy and Diane spent the 2016 Christmas season enjoying these traditions on MIR’s small group tour Christmas Traditions of Poland. On the tour, they:

  • learned to prepare pierogi, Poland’s signature dish
  • took part in decorating hand-painted glass Christmas tree ornaments
  • spent some time in the mountains roasting kielbasa over a bonfire
  • sat down with a family to the traditional Christmas Eve feast, called Wigilia, the Vigil

They were accompanied by Polish native Joanna Millick, MIR’s Director of Sales, who has been leading these Christmas tours for several years now.

Recently we chatted with Kathy and Diane about their highlights and experiences during the Polish holidays.

MIR: Was it cold in Poland while you were there?K&D: Yes, it was, but thanks to the MIR packing list we had the right clothes. All the mulled wine, food, and walking helped, too! There wasn’t much snow in the mountains, so we couldn’t do the sleigh ride on runners, but they put wheels on the sleighs, and it was just as fun. With horses snorting, bells jingling, and the chilly night air, we got the feeling of a sleigh ride.

Improvised sleigh ride on snowless streets Photo: Kathy Jones

Improvised sleigh ride on snowless streets
Photo: Kathy Jones

Enjoying fire roasted <i>kielbasa</i> after the sleigh ride<br>Photo: Kathy Jones

Roasting juicy kielbasa over the fire after the sleigh ride
Photo: Kathy Jones

MIR: Had you ever eaten pierogi, Poland’s traditional dumplings, before?K&D: No, and we really liked them; we’re sad that there’s no place to find pierogi at home. We enjoyed trying to make them at the restaurant class, but ours looked pretty awful. We couldn’t get the hang of folding them. 

Working hard in pierogi class Photo: Kathy Jones

Working hard in pierogi-making class
Photo: Kathy Jones

MIR: What was the hand-painted glass ornament factory like?K&D: It was really amazing; we felt that they treated us like family. We painted our own decorations, a sleigh and a nutcracker, in a downstairs schoolroom, and then went upstairs where the professional artists were working. We could have spent hours watching them carefully painting each ornament by hand. They had already shipped the 2016 ornaments, so got to see them working on next year’s. As we were leaving, we stopped by the little gift shop, and got to choose from all kinds of fantastic decorations.

Painting ornaments in Poland
Photo: Polish National Tourist Bureau

A hand-made tin foil creche in Krakow
Photo: Kathy Jones

MIR: How was the Christmas Market in Krakow?K&D: “We had a wonderful time, walking around looking at all the booths, eating kielbasa, sniffing the smells from the food in the kiosks, and trying not to eat everything we smelled.”

Diane loved the hot mulled wine, and drank Kathy’s share as well as her own. “Wow, I wish I could make this at home,” she said, “but it’s never the same when you try it at home.”

MIR: Did you prefer Krakow, or Warsaw?D: Warsaw is clearly a very powerful and vibrant big city with incredible museums, but I loved Krakow the best. It’s so full of history, and you can feel yourself step back in time. It’s a fairytale city.

K: I especially loved that we could walk right to the Christmas Market from our hotel in Krakow. Even an idiot couldn’t get lost! It matched my idea of what Poland looked like.

K&D: We’re grateful for the time we had in Warsaw, and would have been sorry to have missed it, but we loved walking around Krakow the most.

Krakow, Poland

Krakow Christmas Market in the medieval Market Square
Photo: David W. Allen

MIR: The Poles like to believe that the more you eat at the Christmas Eve Wigilia feast, the more pleasure you’ll have in the year ahead. Did you eat a lot?K&D: Yes, this was one of the highlights of the trip – it was the best food we’ve ever eaten! We’ve never seen such a huge table. The whole thing was so incredible and unusual, especially the tradition of the Christmas wafers. (Before sitting down at the table, Poles break and share traditional Opłatki wafers, very thin unleavened bread embossed with Nativity figures, sharing good wishes as they do so.) We arrived at the home at night, and were greeted outside the house with bread and salt. We ended up spending four hours here, though it didn’t seem that long. Someone brought out an accordion and we talked and sang.

MIR: What was your favorite part of the tour, and why?K&D: We talked about this, and we both agree: Joanna was our favorite part. She treated everyone like a relative. Because of her love of her country, she brought everything to life. She would call to the driver to stop, and we’d all jump out, and then she’d tell a story. Like, ‘Here is the corner where, during communist times when nothing was available, my mom, my sister and I rushed over to line up because a neighbor came running by to tell us that there was toilet paper at this store!’

She made everything so personal. The Royal Castle in Warsaw? That’s where she married her husband. The Benedictine Monastery? She searched out her friend there, a monk who sang a Gregorian chant a cappella for us in the church.

Joanna was the mortar between the bricks.

Joanna helping prepare a traditional Christmas dish Photo: Kathy Jones

Joanna helping prepare a traditional Polish Christmas dish
Photo: Kathy Jones

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Travel to Poland with MIR

MIR has more than two decades of travel experience to Polandon-the-ground support and tour managers that clients rave about. MIR’s full service, dedication, commitment to quality, and destination expertise have twice earned us a place on National Geographic Adventure’s list of “Best Adventure Travel Companies on Earth.”

MIR’s small group tour, Christmas Traditions of Poland, is a rich wintry journey that brings you close to the warm heart of Poland’s long-standing customs from a cooking class teaching how to make traditional Polish-style pierogi with your own private chef, to a brisk sleigh ride followed by warming yourself at a bonfire, roasting kielbasa and enjoying a festive tasting of Polish vodka and hot mulled wine.

Alternately, MIR’s Independent Travel Specialists can handcraft a custom, private tour of Poland or any of our destinations, any time of year, around your interests and travel preferences.

Chat with a MIR destination specialist about travel to Poland by phone (1-800-424-7289) or email today. 

(Top photo: Christmas illuminations on Warsaw’s Royal Road. Photo credit: David W Allen)

PUBLISHED: July 27, 2017

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