Christmas is time of honouring the tradition with twelve dishes and one additional tableware on the table placed for a stray wanderer, as well as the Christmas tree reigning in all houses. But how did things look like before the custom of decorating trees came to Poland?

Today, hardly anybody knows what podłaźnik (Christmas wreath) is or what didukh looked like. However, it was not that long ago that they ruled in Polish homes during Christmas. In order to learn more about traditional local Christmas decorations, it is worth visiting Małopolska, a region where many of these ornaments originated.

A branch instead of a tree

Before the Christmas tree appeared in Polish houses, a traditional decoration was podłaźnik (also called podłaźniczka, jutka or wiecha). It is a severed tip of fir, spruce or pine tree, which, during Christmas, was hung over a table as an ornament. It was decorated with apples, nuts, cookies and “światy” (“worlds”), i.e. spherical ornaments made of wafers. This custom was known first and foremost in the southern part of the country, mainly in Śląsk, Podhale, Pogórze, Ziemia Sądecka and Ziemia Krakowska, and carried with it some traditions and beliefs.
For example, it was generally believed that an evergreen branch would protect a home and its inhabitants from evil powers, diseases and charms. People used to go to the woods early in the morning on the day of Christmas Eve to cut it, and then hurriedly brought it home. It was believed that a farmer who quickly brought a branch used to make podłaźnik, could expect their crops to grow faster.

Happiness hidden in straw

Houses in Małopolska were also decorated with straw ornaments for Christmas. Decorations in the form of the non-threshed grain, called didukh, appeared not only in peasant houses, but also in courts. They were usually put in a corner, or at a place of honour, right behind the table. Straw didukhs were kept at home until Epiphany, and then ritually burnt. This custom, which was still upheld at the beginning of the 20th century, was supposed to ensure good harvest and protect crops.

Another decoration was the so-called spiders, which are unusual spatial constructions created from straw, threads and bristle connected with wax. They were decorated with flowers made of colourful tissue paper, ribbons, fabrics and candles. Spiders, like podłaźnik, were hung from a ceiling on Christmas Eve, where they often stayed throughout the year.
Światy (worlds) are white or coloured balls, rings or stars, made of wafers, which delight with their mysterious design. In the past, they were used for decorating coniferous branches, or served as ornaments, which were to bring harmony, peace and love to home

Cultural heritage

Up to this day, Małopolska is distinguished by its very rich offer of festive decorations, which you can learn about by setting out on a trip along the trail of traditional craft in this region. Manufactories still produce traditional decorations and many folk artists offer the opportunity to take part in workshops. Nevertheless, folk crafts is steadily disappearing and therefore it is worth capturing skills and knowledge of those who are struggling to pass on cultural heritage to the next generation.