Polish Holidays: Official and Traditional Celebrations

Polish holidays run the gamut of national holidays to pagan and religious celebrations.

Let’s take a look at Polish holidays – which ones Poles enjoy as days off and which ones are observed as important aspects of Polish culture. Then we’ll discuss how Poles celebrate their holidays.

Festive Christmas Table with Traditional Polish dishes
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Contents

What Are Poland’s Official Public Holidays?

Official public holidays in Poland result in a day off from work. If you’re a traveler to Poland, it’s important to note that public institutions and other business may be closed on this day. Shops and restaurants that are open may operate with shortened hours.

  • January 1 – New Year’s Day
  • January 6 – Epiphany
  • Easter Sunday and Easter Monday – According to the Church calendar
  • May 1 – May Day
  • May 3 – Constitution Day
  • Seventh Sunday after Easter – Pentecost Sunday
  • Second Thursday after Pentecost – Corpus Christi
  • August 15 – Assumption of the Virgin Mary
  • November 1 – All Saints Day
  • November 11 – Independence Day
  • December 25 – Christmas Day
  • December 26 – Second Day of Christmas

What Polish Holidays Are Observed?

Some holidays in Poland are not recognized as national holidays, but many people still observe them and participate in the related festivities.

Many of these Polish holidays do not have a fixed date for celebration because they depend on the Church calendar. Check the date for the year you intend to travel to see if the moveable holidays fall within your time of stay.

  • February 14 – Valentine’s Day
  • February – Fat Thursday
  • February – Ash Wednesday
  • March 8 – Women’s Day
  • Spring – Palm Sunday
  • Spring – Maundy Thursday
  • Spring – Good Friday
  • Spring – Holy Saturday
  • Spring – Smigus Dyngus
  • April 19 – Warsaw Ghetto Uprising Remembrance Day
  • May 1-3 – Majowka
  • June 21-22 – Kupala Night
  • June 23-24 – Wianki  
  • Fall – Dozynki
  • November 29 – Andrzejki
  • December 6 – Mikolajki
  • December 31 – Sylwester

How Do Poles Celebrate Holidays?

Holiday celebrations in Poland range from city-wide affairs to village festivals to cozy at-home gatherings. Here’s how Poles celebrate Polish holidays throughout the year.

New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day

In Poland, December 31 is called Sylwester. It’s a night associated with superstition – but it’s also celebrated in the way that many people throughout the world celebrate it. Parties, crowds of people gathering together, fireworks, and drinking welcome the turn of the year.

The following day, January 1, is a public holiday in Poland, so people can sleep in, rest, or spend time with family and friends on this first day of the new year.

Epiphany

January 6, according to the Catholic calendar, is Epiphany or the Day of the Three Kings (Święto Trzech Króli) – also known as the Three Wise Men.

This Polish holiday recognizes the three kings that bestowed gifts upon Baby Jesus. People sometimes bless their houses by writing C + B + M (the initials of the three kings) on their door, followed by the date.

Cities such as Warsaw and Krakow also host parades for the Three Kings. While followed by a service about the significance of the day of Epiphany, the Day of the Three Kings is fun for children. Parade participants pass out candies to members of the watching crowd.

Polish holiday Epiphany with three kings on horseback
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Valentine’s Day

Walentynki, or St. Valentine’s Day, is not really a Polish holiday. However, it is a day of fun, gifts, and appreciation, so it has made headway in Poland.

Bouquets of flowers, boxes of chocolate, or other gifts have become more popular to give on this day. And set-price, multi-course dinners, hotel packages, or resort getaways are advertised for those who want to take Walentynki to another level.

Fat Thursday

Fat Thursday (Tłusty Czwartek) is the last Thursday before Lent and marks the beginning of Carnival season. Due to the tradition of eating fatty or sweet foods before the start of Lent, which calls for fasting, Poles have adopted the custom of eating paczki, or Polish donuts. On Fat Thursday, people line up outside of bakeries to get enough freshly prepared donuts for the day.

Traditional Polish donuts with icing
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Ash Wednesday

The robust eating of the Polish Carnival season ends and the Lenten season begins with Ash Wednesday. Many Poles attend Mass on Ash Wednesday to take part in the traditional rite of having ash sprinkled on their forehead as a symbol of mortality.

International Women’s Day

International Women’s Day, which occurs on March 8, was strongly celebrated in the past century in communist countries. Since the rise in international women’s movements, such as #MeToo, more people around the world have come to recognize this day as significant.

However, in Poland, celebrating International Women’s Day maintains continuity with the past customs – and some people enjoy it, while others would rather forget its association with the People’s Polish Republic. Women can expect to receive gifts such as flowers or chocolates on this day or attend a special event.

Easter Holidays

Easter in Poland is an elaborate holiday that spans several days, from the week before Easter Sunday to the Monday after.

On Palm Sunday, the Sunday before Easter, Poles take Easter palms to church – often these are colorful bouquets of dried flowers, but pussy willows may also substitute. You can find them at Easter markets, such as the ones in Krakow – one of the best things to do in Krakow is spend the Easter season there due to its colorful holiday celebrations. You can also find great Polish souvenirs and Polish folk art at these markets!

Grouping of Polish decorated Easter eggs
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Easter Saturday is a significant day of preparation in many Polish households. Many families fill an Easter basket with symbolic foods to take to church to be blessed. Then these foods are eaten as a part of the Easter feast on Easter Sunday.

Smigus Dyngus, or Wet Monday, is the day following Easter Sunday and is a day of fun and superstitions. It’s a day when, in pagan tradition, people may switch each other with pussy willow branches. Or, more popularly, they may squirt or pour water on each other in reference to a pagan fertility ritual.

Warsaw Ghetto Uprising Remembrance Day

April 19 remembers the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising – the 1943 armed resistance of those placed within Warsaw’s Jewish ghetto during WWII.

The POLIN Museum of the History of Jews in Poland created the Daffodils Campaign as a way to remember the heroes of the uprising as well as the events that led to and were enacted during the Holocaust. Volunteers hand out paper daffodils, which are a reference to the daffodils that the leader of the uprising laid on the Heroes of the Ghetto Monument every year.

Daffodils placed on monument
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Majowka

Majowka describes the first days in May that are marked by two official Polish holidays: May 1 and May 3.

May 1 is widely recognized as Labor Day throughout Europe.

May 3 is Poland’s Constitution Day. Poland’s first constitution was signed on this day in 1791. It was also all of Europe’s first constitution and ushered in sweeping reforms to Polish rights, no matter the class they belonged to.

With two official Polish holidays separated by only one day, many families and individuals take this opportunity to go to the countryside or take a trip.

Pentecost Sunday

The seventh Sunday after Easter is Pentecost. Associated with this time is the ancient pagan tradition of Zielone Świątki, or Green Week. It celebrates spring in full bloom with decorations of greenery and ritual purification.

Corpus Christi

The second Thursday after Pentecost is Corpus Christi, or Boże Ciało. It’s typically marked by church processions with religious garments and traditional Polish dress. The processions are headed by alters with symbolic meaning.

Like Pentecost, Corpus Christi is intertwined with pagan traditions, too. So the use of wreaths, birch branches, and flower decorations are essential to this Polish holiday.

Religious procession for Corpus Christi in Poland
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Kupala Night and Wianki

Kupala Night and Wianki, or St. John’s Eve, are so similar they may almost be the same holiday, even though officially, Kupala Night occurs slightly earlier than Wianki.

Kupala Night takes place on the longest night of the year, June 22. St. John’s Eve, also known as Wianki, is celebrated in connection with the saint on June 24. However, both are pagan holidays involving similar beliefs and rituals.

Floating flower wreaths down a river, jumping over bonfires, looking for a magical fern in the forest – this is Midsummer however you call it and whenever it’s celebrated. This pagan festival is even enjoyed in large cities such as Warsaw and Krakow, with related events and lots of fun to be had by everyone.

Two women with wreaths on their heads
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Assumption of the Virgin Mary

August 15 is the Assumption of the Virgin Mary and Polish Army Day. An official Polish holiday, it honors both the Catholic observance of the Virgin Mary being assumed into Heaven as well as fallen soldiers.

Businesses are typically closed this day, and people go to church, gather at cemeteries, or attend ceremonies related to Polish Army Day.

Dozynki

Dozynki is a harvest festival dating back to pagan times. Celebrating the successful gathering of crops, it takes place in August or September. People dress in traditional costume and carry wreaths or garlands made from dried stalks of grain. Some “garlands” are actually sculptures made of sheaths of wheat and decorated with flowers – sometimes a contest is held for the most beautiful of these sculptures.

Straw sculptures wit flowers and fresh produce
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All Saints Day

All Saints Day, November 1, is a day of remembrance of the dead. On this day, people visit cemeteries and leave burning candles there – sometimes by the thousands if the cemetery is a central one or where famous individuals have been buried.

This very beautiful Polish holiday can be enjoyed even by respectful travelers. The candles’ quiet glow in the fall night, warding off both the darkness and the chill, is a peaceful counterpoint to the boisterous noise of Halloween.

Cemetery lit up with candles during fall
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Independence Day

On November 11, Poles celebrate Polish independence. This day recognizes Poland’s regaining of its sovereignty from the German, Austro-Hungarian, and Russian empires, which had divvied up Poland over the course of the centuries – so much so that Poland existed only in people’s memories for 123 years. The end of WWI, which saw the defeat of Europe’s reigning powers, gave Poland the opportunity to rise again.

On this official Polish holiday, you’ll see the Polish flag widely flown. Parades and ceremonies are also par for the course, as is a televised presentation that includes the Polish president and prime minister.

Andrzejki

Andrzejki, or St. Andrew’s Day, happens the night of November 29. Because it was the traditional start of the pre-Christmas Lent, this was traditionally a time for feasting.

Andrzejki was also a time for predictions – specifically, unmarried women would try to predict details about their future marriage and husbands through various divination practices. The most popular technique has lingered to this day: pouring melted wax through a skeleton key into water and “reading” the wax for clues.

Whether they make any attempt at predicting the future, students and younger people often go out to clubs and bars on Andrezejki night.

Mikolajki

The Day of St. Nicholas, Mikolajki, is when Santa Claus – or at least, a version of him – appears on December 6 to children to pass out candies and small treats. Santa often visits schools on this day, and children may wake up on that morning to small stocking stuffer-style gifts snuck in by their parents.

Christmas

Christmas in Poland is the culmination of a year’s worth of Polish holidays. While the season begins with Advent and Polish Christmas markets, it’s Christmas Day, December 25, that is the most special.

Families gather together for traditional foods and perhaps Christmas mass, as well as other traditions, including sharing the Christmas wafer.

Poles have two days off for Christmas – both December 25 and December 26 – though businesses often close early on Christmas Eve. If you’re in Poland during that time, you should book dinner reservations early with restaurants catering to travelers, which may have a specific number of tables they can serve with prior reservation.

Christmas tree with blue lights in a courtyard
Photo 250317051 © Artur Bogacki | Dreamstime.com

Celebrating Polish holidays is one of the best things to do in Warsaw – or any Polish city or town you visit throughout the country. You’ll come close to Polish culture and history and often have a lot of fun and make a lot of memories in the process.

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