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Christmas Eve around the table

Like in most Central European countries, Christmas in Poland is a quaint and much-beloved affair.

Most of the Polish Christmas celebrations take place on 24th December, and even though the day isn’t an official public holiday in Poland, to many Poles it is one of the most significant and family-oriented dates in the calendar. Many institutions stop working earlier than usual on the day of Christmas Eve, which is usually celebrated with a family dinner at home.

Many Poles wait until the first star appears in the sky before sitting down to eat on 24th December. This tradition commemorates the Star of Bethlehem, which according to the New Testament guided the Wise Men to the birthplace of Christ. Nowadays, with so many satellites circling around the Earth and reflecting light, it’s sometimes tricky to adhere to this tradition, but many families do their best.

Another tradition in Poland is leaving one empty place at the table. Once everybody sits down at the table to taste the delicious Christmas dishes you might notice that one place is still empty. Many Poles still leave an empty place set at the table in case of a person down on luck should show up and ask for shelter. While this rarely happens nowadays, the tradition nevertheless requires that lone strangers be taken in and treated like family.

If you find some hay beneath the tablecloth at a Polish Christmas Eve celebration, don’t assume your hosts did a poor job of tidying up. The hay is there on purpose, as a way of remembering that, according to the Bible, the newborn Jesus was put in a manger to rest.

A traditional Polish Christmas Eve dinner also has to consist of 12 dishes. One for each month of the New Year. Some claim that one should try every dish to secure good luck throughout the upcoming twelve-month period. Classic Polish Christmas dishes include, amongst others, cabbage and mushroom pierogi (dumplings), carp (fish), herrings, beetroot or mushroom soup and the poppy seed cake known as makowiec.

Like in most Central European countries, Christmas in Poland is a quaint and much-beloved affair, but Polish customs still remain delightfully distinctive.

The text was written in September 2019.

Short bio of the volunteer:

Danuta Brzozowska, a volunteer from Poland who likes to ride a bike and play tennis.


Erasmus+ is a programme of the European Commission embracing the fields of education, training, youth and sports during the period 2014-2020. One of the major aspects is the cooperation between the different fields where the programme acts, hence contributing for a diverse and rich Europe.

Amongst the several goals of the programme, the following are prioritised: the objectives of the Europe 2020 Strategy, including the headline education target; the aims of the strategic framework for European cooperation in education and training (ET 2020), including the corresponding benchmarks; the sustainable development of Partner Countries in the field of higher education; the overall goals of the renewed framework for European cooperation in the youth field (2010-2018); the objective of developing the European dimension in sport, in particular grassroots sport, in line with the EU work plan for sport and the promotion of European values in accordance with Article 2 of the Treaty on the European Union.

In order to achieve these goals, the Erasmus+ has several action policies. The Key Action 1 (KA1) is directed towards the mobility of people; Key Action 2 (KA2) for the cooperation for innovation and the interchange of good experiences; and Key Action 3 (KA3) which is for the support of reformation policies.

European Voluntary Service

Since 1991 the University of Madeira Students’ Union has developed a wide incentive policy for voluntary work. In 2013 the Students’ Union started the process to receive, send and coordinate Erasmus+ projects of the European Voluntary Service, in order to have a larger influence in the volunteering field. The Union received its first volunteer withing the ambit of a KA1 project in 2014. Many efforts have been done to allow young people from Madeira to take part in several initiatives in Europe, as well as propose several projects allowing young people from several countries to work in the projects of the Students’ Union of the University of Madeira. The main goal of the voluntary work is the contribution of the volunteers to the communities and places they will be staying, being their work not rewarded with payment.

We believe that the European Voluntary Service is a mechanism full of experiences, allowing the approved candidates to have the privilege of taking part in these projects and benefit the places and communities where these volunteers will be staying.

Since 2013, the University of Madeira Students’ Union has received volunteers that have collaborated in several activities and initiatives. Besides being able to enjoy a wonderful experience which will contribute to their personal and professional growth, they are able to contribute in a unique way to the community in which they are inserted and to join dozens of volunteers from the University of Madeira.