In this description of a 19th century Christmas in Poland (from Chamber’s Journal of Popular Literature, Science and Arts), the family has a Christmas Eve dinner which finishes with “a pudding, strongly flavoured with poppies. This last dish is de rigueur, and even the poorest family contrives to have a small quantity. It is eaten cold. Under each plate is placed a small wisp of hay or straw, to call to mind the manger about to be occupied by the Holy Babe. During the repast, hymns are sung by the assembled family; master and mistress, children and servants, unite their voices in that song of praise which two thousand years ago awoke the echoes on the plains of Bethlehem: ‘Gloria! Gloria in excelsis!’
Description of the creche
The poppy-pudding having been duly honoured, all adjourn to the crèche (or manger), which has been prepared in another room, to the intense delight of the little ones of the family, who, however, are not excluded from the preparation of it. The Christmas tree is prepared ‘en cacchette’, but the crèche is the children’s work.
It is, of course, lighted and adorned according to the means and taste of the family. Generally, however, it is very simple, being as near as we can imagine a just representation of the stable in which ‘Mary brought forth her first-born son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger.’
All remain a few minutes in silent prayer, after which such gifts as have been prepared for the poor are distributed; and many a ragged child goes home well clothed and fed, and blessing in her little heart that Poor Babe lying in the straw, in whose sacred name the clothes were given her.
After this, the little ones, happy and tired, go to bed, and their elders prepare to attend the midnight mass —