Monday, December 20, 2010

Christmas Heritage Traditions

Polish for "Merry Christmas"

This is a beautiful Polish doll brought back to me from Poland by my beloved grandparents, now both deceased. This doll, whom I named Karisha (Karen) is ever more precious to me now.

I am very fortunate to have been part of a family who is very grounded in tradition - the Polish side from me and now the Italian side from my husband. There are many aspects to how my Polish family celebrates the holidays and I'd like to share a little bit of how we celebrate ours across the miles...

There is a lovely children's book about how the Polish people celebrate Christmas called, "Marta and the Manger Straw".

It centers around the Polish tradition of taking a piece of straw from the church manger to keep with you which will bring *riches* throughout the new year. The riches are more than monetary, however. This story is about little Marta, who is very poor. She is given a piece of the manger straw and ends up giving pieces of it away to others who are more needy than she, until she has nothing left. Marta learns how the power of love and altruism comes back tenfold. It's a lovely lesson in giving.

Another custom is to place straw underneath the table cloth, symbolizing the humble beginnings of the Christ child. Straw is extremely symbolic to this culture and we decided to start a tradition of making our own straw star ornaments this year in honor of our Polish heritage.

Paper, Scissors, Stone sells Swedish straw which I had purchased earlier this year. The girls are, like most Americans, a mix of many cultures, including some Swedish, so it's all good :)

I remembered reading a nice tutorial on Syrendell last year about how they made straw garland. It can be found here.

So while the dogs were sleeping, the straw was soaking...

Farley (age 12.75)

Stanely (our current foster - age 10)

And the furbabies - Koda (9 months) & Jack (4.5 or so?)

is a wonderful book, though I have since seen their crafts in other Christmas crafting books, including "Christmas in the Family". Both are wonderful, though the latter has more than just crafts.

Filling Babci's old pot that I brought back...

The girls put the pieces of straw in to soak...

Then, we cut them in half at an angle so that they would be pointed.

I had also attempted to iron them, but they would not flatten properly (might be the type of straw they are) so we decided to enjoy them as is.

We cut a piece of thread and placed it horizontally on the table.
We then placed the pieces of straw in the desired design.

After trial and error, I found it easiest with the children for me to hold the design with my finger and allow them to weave the thread up and over one, down and under the next, up and over, down and under, etc. Every once in a while, we'd knot it off and then alternate which pieces were up and over & which ones were down and under so that they were all secured.

And voila! Elena finished her 6 pointed star!

Karisha holds one of my stars!

Charley's turn...

Taaaa daaaaahhh!

They somehow make our tree complete!

Marta and the Manger Straw has a free unit study that can go along with the book, though I honestly wasn't too impressed, but I'm sure it can be embellished by all you wonderful homeschool mama's out there!
Homeschool Share's free unit study on this book can be found here.

Some other Polish traditions - this year we bought a Charlie Brown type silver tree. Every year for the past 60-70 years, Granny's (Babci's) silver tree was put up. See below for a picture of the real silver tree the last year it was put up when Babci was still alive. It is still being put up, but I wanted to have my own little one to remind me of my dear Granny Goose!

My silver tree...

Babci's silver tree (not finished decorating it)

More traditions...sauerkraut soup and sauerkraut pierogies

We are very fortunate to have my great grandmother's pierogie recipes, along with my great aunt dolly's and some yummy variants from Glos Polek - the Polish Women's Alliance out of Chicago, Illinois.

The girls & I make pierogies every year. This year, we made cheese & potato, froze them, and my aunt is flying them into Chicago this holiday for our extended family to enjoy!

We make them the way that great grandma made them...

After preparing the dough, roll out with a rolling pin until they are nice and thin.

Using a glass, you cut out the circular shapes (use a large rim).

Place the stuffing in - the trick is to have a lot of stuffing in a very thin shell. It is actually pretty challenging if you do it like the pros. That was my big criticism of my first batches - too much dough!

Stretch the dough over the filling.

Use the edge of a fork to close the edges. Make sure they are closed tightly or they will open when boiled and all the stuffing comes out (happened to me waaaaayy too many times!)

Finished, it should look like this...

Then place on wax paper and brush melted butter over them so that when you freeze them, they will not stick together. If you are eating immediately, you boil them until they rise to the top and then fry them in a frying pan with butter and enjoy!

This batch is headed to Chicago, along with a bunch of xmas cookies...Mmmmmm...

Lots of great links out there to Polish celebrations, which can turn into a wonderful cultural study for all you homeschoolers out there!

What are your Christmas Heritage Traditions?


  1. Loving those stars, and the lovely story. Christmas wishes from New Zealand. Marie

  2. Beautiful! I want to remember this for when my little ones learn about world cultures. My own family is very American - a big mix - so our traditions are pretty American too. DH's family is Swedish/Scandanavian, so I've enjoyed those traditions - Swedish pancakes for Christmas breakfast, clam chowder and pickled herring for supper. Mostly, it's about the food! :)

  3. Brava for keeping those connections (to generations gone before)so alive and vibrant! I love the simple straw ornaments and those pierogies look delicious. Well done, girls!

  4. Terrific post, Jen. The book looks beautiful and I love your straw stars! I bought the supplies to make these and I'm hoping to find some time on Christmas Eve to do it with my family. Merry Christmas!

  5. Thank you for sharing!

    Merry Christmas!

  6. Thank you everyone - I really appreciate each and every blog friend out there! Momma Rae - your comment wouldn't go through, so I'm listing it below - it was so sweet, so I wanted you to know how much I appreciated it.

    "i LOVED reading this! thanks for sharing your rich heritage and they wonderful ways you are sharing it with your own children. wishing you a light filled and warm holiday! ;)"

    Hugs to you all & Happy Holidays!