Ciara Kenny

The Irish Times forum by and for Irish citizens living overseas,

A Polish-Irish Christmas

When I step outside today, it will be into two feet of snow. Sleighs are a better form of transport for kids than strollers. No high-tech gadgets at Christmas can beat the joy of throwing snowballs and making a ‘bałwan’ with your kid, writes Damien Moran.

Mon, Dec 24, 2012, 10:58



Poles are the biggest ethnic minority in Ireland, with the last census counting 140,000 heads scattered around the country. Back in Central Europe’s powerhouse though, there are just 400 Irish who call Poland home.

I’m one of them, having lived here since December 2005. Originally hailing from Banagher in Co. Offaly, you can probably guess why I came to Warsaw. Her name is Dorota and she was my girlfriend. Her name is still Dorota, but now she is my wife of three years and mother of our two girls, Mia and Emma.

Mia is just two years old, yet her bi-lingualism and even swear words are already very impressive. When she gets frustrated she says ‘Kurwa mać’. Her sister Emma is a mere five days old and still in hospital with her mum. I’ll try cut out the bad language this time round.

As the Christmas ‘Wigilia’ meal and present unwrapping takes place on the 24th in Poland, fingers crossed (or as Poles say, ‘I’m holding my thumbs’) that today they will be discharged.

When you have lived away from your entire family for so long, it’s hard to imagine a better gift from Santa than a new member to the clan. Now all I want is for Emma’s mum’s blood pressure to remain stable so we can be together.

The Morans in Warsaw are a part of Generation Emigration with bi-lingual children who won’t be pulling crackers or indulging in selection boxes or pudding this Christmas. As most Poles live in apartments I still haven’t figured out how Święto Mikołaj (Santa Claus) gets access to the ‘choinka’ (xmas tree).

On the plus side, Polish tradition also holds in high esteem St. Nicholas’ birthday on December 6th – so if you want your kids to speak to you over the holidays, presents are mandatory. When I step outside today, it will be into two feet of snow. Sleighs are a better form of transport for kids than strollers. No high-tech gadgets at Christmas can beat the joy of throwing snowballs and making a ‘bałwan’ with your kid.

Wigilia or Christmas Eve Supper in the land of Marie Curie, Frederic Chopin and my in-laws, the Gadzinowskis gets rolling with the appearance of the first star in the sky. Today there is a snowstorm so we’ll start as soon as my wife and newborn daughter get home from hospital.

Next, a large communion-like (albeit not transubtantiated) wafer (opłatek) engraved with an image of the nativity scene is produced.

It is broken by the eldest family member present, then distributed amongst the relatives. Everybody should grant wishes and embrace each other, the pangs of hunger inducing them to quickly crack off and devour a chunk of the others wafer.

A plethora of the traditional 12 dishes already grace the table – herring (‘śledz’, pron. shledge) in oil and onion; fried carp and carp in aspic; Greek-styled fish; beetroot soup (barszcz) with mini-dumplings called ‘uszki’ or little ears stuffed with mushrooms; dumplings with cabbage and mushroom; a variety of salads; poppyseed cake; compote. No turkey or ham, brussels sprouts, gravy.

At 10 zł per kilo (2.5 Euro) customers in supermarkets can even choose their own live carp in colossal and overloaded temporary-aquariums.

December 24th is the closest Poles get to vegetarianism. Every year they consume 19,000 tonnes of carp during the festive season. It is one of the only days of the year when Poles don’t dine on their beloved swine. Even though our family are vegetarian, we tend to just close our eyes and eat all around us in order to appreciate the effort made.

During our last encounter in an international football friendly at Croke Park, in November 2008, the Slavs came out the greater force winning 2-3. That aside, our relations have remained friendly.

Just six months ago, swarms of Irish soccer fans flooded over to Poland for Euro 2012, and despite our team’s miserable performances, we became the stuff of legend here. I still lap up the praise and get shouted drinks when spotted in my World Cup ’94 jersey.

February 6th, 2013 will see the greatest concentration of Poles and Irish in one place at one time in our joint history when we meet at the Aviva. To get there, I might just have to ‘pop out for bread’ for two days.

Despite being fluent in Polish, I still make frequent cultural and linguistic cock-ups. It’s par for the course for the Irish abroad.

Earlier this year I penned ‘The Irish Fans Guide to Euro 2012′, which reached number one in Sports category for three weeks prior to the Euros. Unfortunately, the Polish media didn’t catch on to the satire and irony of the text and claimed I called them a nation of drunks.

In my defence, I told them we tend to wear that badge with pride and market it well.

The million złoty question is, will Mia and Emma wear green or red and white on the day. I may have to buy a Mayo jersey to keep the peace.