Christmas Eve in Poland is a bigger event than Christmas Day (in terms of traditions.) It's a day of abstinence from eating meat, and if one is urged to attend Mass; however, not everybody does. The main festivity of the day is a huge meal, which is mostly composed of fish dishes. Before the meal we each took a large wafer (akin to the Host one receives in Church except they're big and square and have little pictures pressed into them) and everyone said hello to each other and wished each other health, wealth, good things, happiness, good grades in school, etc. I mostly just stood there awkwardly and grinned while nodding. After you wish the other person well, you exchange a small bit of your wafer (you pinch it off the other person's wafer) and each it. Then, you move on to the next person. After everyone has wished everyone else well, you all go around the table again. There was a short, short reading of the Bible, and singing a carol. I did not burst forth with a melodious rendition, but stood there and listened to verse after verse. We sat down for the feast finally and began eating. One curious thing I noticed, is that people here don't wait for others to sit down (or even be at the table or in the room) to begin eating. For a place where manners are heavily enforced, I found this to be sorely lacking and quite surprising.
During the end of the meal presents were passed out. It might just be this family, but the gifts were all anonymous and attributed to Santa "Saint Mikolaj." I received a DVD copy of "Ogniem i Mieczem" (With Fire and Sword), which surprisingly works in my computer's DVD player (so it must be a Region 1 DVD. I've had problems before with playing other European copies of DVDs.) I also got a knife set in a handsome wooden case.
On nearly every corner there are Christmas trees for sale. Most are rather small, which makes sense because most people have apartments. We opted for one in a pot. It's been referred to as a "Charlie Brown" tree because it lacks the heavy ornamentation that adorns all other trees. A string of lights and a handful of bulbs bought from a nearby Tesco are sufficient. Still, it's the largest of the family. Other members have fake trees or ones so small they're more like saplings. My pleas for a traditional method of getting a Choinka were rejected. I wanted to slog into Kabaty, at night if need be, and chop down a worthy tree. My mother recently claimed that her tree was the best of all time (a boast I had trouble believing, but that just might be my envy.) My uncle went to a tree farm and chopped down his own tree (my aunt was not impressed with the one he chose.) Both my mom and my uncle chopped down large trees and just took the top (an acceptable method.) Going to a farm is not exactly the same as hunting for that perfect tree, but it's still better than buying one off the street corner.
The tree salesmen nearest to the apartment were way too overpriced. We had to go one subway stop and got one for half the price: 40zl versus 99zl. I had to carry the tree on the subway with the top snagging all sorts of places on ceilings (have you ever really noticed how topographical ceilings are? One doesn't notice it until having to lug a tall object about that scraps against all surfaces under ten feet in height.