New Polish Christmas Traditions

Poland has learned a lot from its open contact with Britain over the past 20 years. For example, it has learned that Britain features less gold paving in metropolitan areas than it might have been led to believe. Poland has also started to pick up some bad habits, especially when it comes to Christmas. The British Christmas is very nice in itself but there is an awful lot of whining, hand-wringing and general grumbling that accompanies it. One of the advantages of being a Brit living in Poland has always been that one can avoid the whole sordid build-up to Christmas and simply parachute in at the last minute for the good bit. Watching the news this December I’ve had to keep reminding myself where I am.

Being caught out by the weather

We rarely have extreme weather in the UK. In fact that’s not true, we regularly have extreme weather but it’s never predictable. It’s a rare year when we don’t have a tornado or six feet of snow in June or two days of Saharan dust storms or something else absurdly unlikely in some equally unlikely corner of the country. The traditional British response to this is to close everything, especially vital public services, and go to the pub. Television cameras then swoop in and interview people demonstrating the Dunkirk, or possibly the Blitz, spirit. This consists of making blindingly obvious statements such as: “It’s very cold / wet / windy and it’s causing me a great deal of inconvenience” often while standing in the smoking and/or drowned ruins of your house.

Tornado in Britain

Aftermath of the Birmingham tornado featuring confused firefighters wondering exactly why they’ve been called to a building that isn’t on fire

Until recently Poles gave every impression of being relatively unsurprised by the onset of snow and freezing temperatures in winter but some kind of seasonal amnesia seems to have set in. Every time I turn on the television recently a reporter is standing next to a road packed with drivers who have simply freaked out at the appearance of powdery white stuff falling from the heavens. Cars are upside down, articulated lorries are dangling from trees, and buses are wedged into small buildings. “We didn’t know what was going on,” wail the victims, “suddenly this icy white substance that we’ve never seen before in our lives in the last six months was all over the road!”

Everything is made in China

This is, in fact, true. Everything really is made in China, including those little “Made in Poland” labels. The rest of the world gave up making anything of interest decades ago, but Poland only now seems to be catching on to this. When I was a lad everything was made in Taiwan, which is a little tiny version of China located in the South China Sea right next to China. Kind of weird when you think about it.

The thrust of the report I saw on the news last night was that Polish toy manufacturers are upset at the number of toys being imported from China. There was footage of Chinese toy robots that can read your brain waves being paraded up and down glittering catwalks by scantily clad Chinese bikini models and some other footage of grumpy looking Polish men hammering wooden dogs together. If I was a Polish lad I know where my interests would lie. Robots that can read your brain waves are, in themselves, considerably cooler than wooden dogs and the fact that they have been seen in the vicinity of exotic bikini models only adds to their appeal.


Stiff competition for manufacturers of wooden dogs

Complaining that everything is made in China is another British Christmas tradition that has caught on here. In fact Britain has given up complaining about this and embraced the phenomenon wholeheartedly. Last year, or possibly the year before, there was a big story in the British media about “the ship bringing Christmas.” Apparently there was one giant cargo ship on its way from China carrying so many of the gifts we would end up giving to each other, the decorations we would be putting up, and the equipment we would be using to cook our Christmas dinners that it was, essentially, carrying Britain’s Christmas. It was a kind of giant nautical Santa Clause. The touching thing was that nobody seemed to mind, they were ever rooting for it a little bit. My advice to Poland: stop trying to make things, everybody else gave up years ago.

“Christmas gets earlier every year…”

Suddenly everyone is keen to tell me that when they were a lad or lass Christmas in Poland began on the 24th of December and there wasn’t a trace of a twinkling light or a glint of tinsel to be seen before that date. Everyone was far too busy queueing for bread and being bitingly satirical about communism back then. In other words everyone in Poland suddenly became my grandparents, except for the communism part obviously. Complaining about the commercialization of Christmas is an age-old tradition in the UK. If anything it’s the complaining about the commercialization rather than the onset of the commercialization itself that seems to get earlier every year. Early indications are that this particular trend has exported itself even more effectively than swine flu.

bread queue

A British bread queue: most people are thinking “Thank god we don’t live in communist Poland.”

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13 thoughts on “New Polish Christmas Traditions

  1. Malaysian says:

    Haha! The thing with wooden dogs is that they probably cost so much more compared to those cheap Chinese-made toys. I won’t agree that he should give up producing his wooden toys though, but instead concentrate on selling his products to a niche market – wooden toys-collectors who’re looking for originality and quality. Whereas the part about complaining, you don’t want to find out at what price the Chinese are selling to that Polish importer.

  2. Sir,

    Did you mention the Polish tradition about the lady of the house always putting out an additional plate on the table, should somebody who is alone and without a supper knock at the door and unexpectedly join the family?

    I’ve got one idea better for the Polish family keen to show their Christian love to those less fortunate than themselves. Let’s ask them to go one small step further this year and set a whole table for that group of homeless ruffs who are unlikely to have a warm meal this Christmas Eve and who hang out round the back of the local kiosk throwing cans at the cats. Let’s not just set our table with 12 places fro them but actually go down, find these deserving ones and invite them in the true spirit of Christian generosity back to our apartment to eat a lovely warm meal with us after we have relocated ourselves to the sofa with our plates so that they can have more room at the table?

    And for the finishing touch of genuine kindness and generosity, let’s ask them to stay the night on the floor of our lounge and main bedroom, giving them a half dozen cans of refreshing lager if they appear thirsty, and thus show true Christian hospitality for those less fortunate than ourselves at this most giving time of the year?

    After all, it’s around 0°C at the moment in Warsaw and will drop to about -2°C by this Thursday night, Christmas Eve. May I bid you have a very fine evening, Sir.

    I remain, &c.
    Alexander Dyle

  3. Scatts says:

    Does that robot have swivelling boobs or is it just that the top of them opens up….like a small glove box or something?

  4. MaterialGirl says:

    I’m going off for Christmas and New Year. Yesterday I got tragic news – on Sylwester time I have to accompany some british guy I haven’t never seen!!! It will be massacre.

    My wishes at:

  5. Bartek says:

    According to the definition, a regularly run blog is updated at least once a week. Sorry to say that Island, but this time you wanted to post something, only the idea was very vague…

    Christmas gets earlier. That part makes sense, but you follow the same trend, for the past three weeks there was nothing else but the Christmas stuff here – fairs, gifts, the bizarre customs. We have now two Christmas Tides – first, commercial begins just after All Saints’ Day, steps up in the first day of December and ends on Boxing Day, the traditional one begins not earlier than a few days before Christmas and ends even on 2nd February. And the Christmas period is a wicked excuse not to work, I see it among my schoolmates. Last classes were held yesterday, but everybody complained they had had to stay after the weekend and demanded days off. Even Christmas Eve is a working day and let’s stick to it.

  6. island1 says:

    Good luck with that.

  7. island1 says:

    It’s a mind-reading robot: appendages behave according to your secret desires.

  8. island1 says:

    That was kind of scary!

    Merry Christmas to you too. Try not to massacre too many British guys.

  9. Ania says:

    one thing is nice on the Island – the multitude of Christmas cards exchanged by everyone. They all landed next to my Advent wreath!

    For now I’m stuck on the rock – the flishts and ferries are cancelled. Let’s hope it keeps snowing!

  10. Breadphile says:

    Excellent image of a bread queue from years gone-by. Perhaps a futile question to ask a journalist, but could you list its source; I’d like to use it. Many thanks.

  11. Breadphile says:

    Thanks for the link. A tough generation. Snoek sandwiches, if, they were lucky.

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