Embracing the Tradition – How Poland Celebrates New Year’s Eve

New Year’s Eve is one of the most important nights of the year in Poland. During this time, Poles know how to party! But was it always like this? We checked what Polish traditions are related to New Year’s Eve and the New Year.

Ever wonder where the tradition of New Year’s Eve celebration came from? It goes back to ancient times when Julius Caesar established the beginning of the new year on January 1. The Julian calendar was in use in Europe for many centuries – now we use the Gregorian calendar. But this doesn’t fully explain where the tradition of Sylwester (New Year’s Eve) celebrations on the evening of December 31 came from.

Where Does The New Year’s Eve Tradition Come From in Poland

According to most sources, we owe the New Year’s Eve party to the prophecy of Sibyl, who predicted the end of the world in the year 1000. At the turn of the years 999 and 1000, the Leviathan dragon was to awaken to destroy humanity.

At the threshold of the new millennium, an apocalypse was expected, which was also described by St. John. When the catastrophe didn’t happen, Pope Sylwester II blessed Rome and the world in the early morning of January 1, 1000. People poured out into the streets to celebrate, and the pope was hailed as a hero.

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New Year’s Eve Traditions in Poland

However, it took many centuries before boisterous New Year’s Eve balls became widespread. In Poland, New Year’s Eve celebrations began to be organized in the 19th century. Initially, only the wealthiest classes partied, but later the tradition of the New Year’s Eve party became more and more common, eventually reaching even the „cottages”.

New Year’s Eve Tradition in villages – Costume games

But, let me tell you, a New Year’s Eve ball is not the only tradition associated with the last day of the year. In Poland, we have many customs designed to ensure future success. Some are well known, while others don’t seem so common. Below, I am presenting a few of them.

TIP: To start the next year well, make sure you stay in a beautiful place. 

Your New Year’s Eve Sets the Tone for the Whole Year

We often repeat this sentence today, but in folk tradition, it was taken very seriously. Efforts were made to ensure success and wealth for the whole family in the new year. That’s why care was taken to fill the pantry and lay a bountiful table.

People also dressed in festive clothes and put coins in their pockets to attract wealth. To ensure a good harvest in the upcoming season, they would sprinkle each other with oats.

There was also one important rule that people adhered to – on New Year’s Eve, you couldn’t clean, especially sweep the floors. Doing so was believed to sweep happiness out of the house.

A Night Full of Pranks Tradition

Now, let me say, New Year’s Eve is a time when practical jokers come to life. Especially younger folks find it irresistible to pull a prank or two. Imagine waking up on New Year’s Day to find your chimney stuffed with glass so you can’t light the fire!

Sometimes, kids would even move wagons outside the farm, or even crazier, on barn roofs. You’d wake up needing to not only find your wagon, but also other farming tools!

But, my friend, that’s not all, Mischievous pranksters didn’t stop there. They’d coat windows with lime, dismantle fences, or wire up doors. These were the most common pranks, and get this, you couldn’t even get mad at them! And guess who were usualy behind these jokes? Bachelors, particularly targeting homes with eligible bachelorettes.

Foretelling the Future

As you can probably tell, New Year’s Eve was a special time for young ladies eager to foretell their marital futures. They would dress up nicely hoping to attract potential suitors in the coming year. But that’s not all. Believe it or not, they believed that the first male name they heard after midnight would be their future husband’s.

The young ladies also wanted to know who would get hitched first. One of the popular divinations involved pets. Each girl would prepare a bone for the dog and whoever’s bone got eaten by the dog first, it was believed, stood the best chance to get married. Another common divination involved pouring wax into water and interpreting its shapes to foretell their love life.

The 'Fatty’ Christmas Eve

Here’s something I think is worth saying: Christmas Eve isn’t just on the 24th of December. In some regions of Poland, like Podlasie, they celebrated three Christmas Eves – one before Christmas, one for New Year’s, and one for Epiphany. But only on New Year’s Eve could they have meat on the table, hence the name ’Fatty’ Christmas Eve.

The star of the feast was usually pork, along with strong spirits. One dish that was a must on the tables in Podlasie was „prażucha„. Now, if you need a little context, it’s a dish made from wheat flour, topped with lard.

Quite the feast to kick off the New Year, right? I believe this really sets the scene for how the Polish ring in the New Year with fun, pranks, and a whole lot of tradition.

Bidding Goodbye to the Old Year

You need to know, to make room for the new year, folks had to drive out the old one. The methods varied by region. For example, in Kujawy villages, they fired off long bats. This noise wasn’t just for driving out the old year, but it was also believed to promise bountiful harvests in the summer.

New Year’s Eve Tradition in villages – Costume games

In other parts of Poland, people went around the villages with wooden clappers, and also made use of anything that created noise – banging on tin sheets or metal cans was the usual gig.

Extending Well Wishes

Then, much like we do now, they would extend wishes for the New Year. You could hear good words from family members, and even from costumned characters. Many villages had people dress up as the Old and New Year, and they visited homes, wishing everyone prosperity.

The New Year was always represented as a lively youngster, while the guy playing Old Year was made to look like an elderly man. In other Polish villages, young folks dressed up as Gypsies or Jews came around with wishes. You could also encounter ladder-climbers, whose visit was believed to bring good luck in the coming year.

Tradition of Going 'Szczodrak’

On New Year’s Day, the practice of extending wishes continued – carol singers visited homes, and kids went 'Szczodrak’. Now, if you’re wondering, 'Szczodrak’ are yeast rolls with sweet fillings, usually homemade jam or marmalade. The custom was to communicate only in rhymes or poems.

The first day of the year also saw neighbors visiting each other. This was yet another opportunity to ensure prosperity, which was foretold based on who first visits the household on New Year’s Day.

A woman’s visit was considered unlucky, so they made sure the first guests were men. Everyone was greeted with tables laden with bread and New Year’s pastries.

These New Year’s pastries had a special shape. They were decorated with figures of animals, people, and shaped twigs. All of this was done to assure good fortune in the upcoming year. I can tell, it was quite a festive way to kick off the New Year, don’t you think?

Tradition of Sweeping Out Misery

I think it’s worth saying, we remember that on New Year’s Eve, nobody cleaned to avoid sweeping out bad luck. However, this could be done before dawn on New Year’s Day, a custom called sweeping out poverty. The trash was taken out to the road, and spruce twigs used for sweeping were placed in the fence.

Now, if there was an unmarried girl in the house, they later checked to see if the spruce had been taken by boys. If it had, that was a sign that a wedding could be planned within the year. It’s a quirky custom, isn’t it? But, such were the traditions that made every New Year’s celebration in Poland a real treat.


  • https://dzieje.pl/wideo/etnograf-nowy-rok-w-polskiej-tradycji-szczegolny-dzien-starajmy-sie-go-swietowac
  • https://polskieradio.pl/39/156/artykul/2239466,swieto-nowego-roku-noworoczne-zwyczaje-w-polskiej-tradycji
  • https://www.tatento.pl/a/259/sylwester-i-zwyczaje-noworoczne