Festivals & Events
A number of holidays, listed below, have been designated as public by law, including many (Catholic) religious holidays and several important anniversaries. On those days, most service and retail outlets, other companies, museums, galleries, other attractions and public administration units, are required to close entirely. Do plan ahead if you need to do your shopping, use a service or have some official business to be done.
These closures do not include places to eat, gas stations and pharmacies. Small shops sometimes exploit a legal loophole that allows businesses run by owners themselves to remain open - this applies almost all Żabka neighbourhood convenience stores. Having said that, many may have shortened opening hours or be closed entirely, as there is no legal requirement for them to stay open. In larger cities, your options might be limited, but you should have all the usual options to eat and drink, do basic shopping et al. In smaller towns and villages, the local gas station can be your only resort.
Most means of public transport will run according to their Sunday schedule on public holidays, usually meaning less frequent operations. Some connections, e.g. peak bus lines, do not operate on such days entirely ("Sunday service").
If a public holiday falls on a Tuesday or Thursday, many Poles take a day off on the Monday preceding or Friday following to have a "long weekend". Acknowledging this, many companies and public administration units will remain closed on those days as well. Roads and trains may become excessively congested on the days long weekends start or end, so beware. In tourist destinations, prices may rise and accommodation may be booked out long in advance. On the other hand, large cities often become relatively deserted, which has its advantages and disadvantages for tourists visiting them.
Catholic religious holidays are widely celebrated in Poland and many provide colourful and interesting festivities and include local traditions. Most of the population, especially in smaller towns and villages, will go to church on those days and participate in them. For Christmas and Easter, it is customary to join one's family for celebratory meals and gatherings that often bring together family members from far away, so many Poles will travel to their home towns or families out of their place of residence. Spending those holidays abroad (unless visiting a family), or having celebratory dinners in restaurants is very rare, although many hotels and restaurants would offer Christmas and Easter meals.
The following is a list of public holidays and some other important holidays with a brief description of the way they are celebrated by Poles. Please note that all religious holidays relating to Easter are movable and take place on a different date each year, and can take place within a four-week time span. Do check for exact days if you plan to be in Poland between March and June.
- New Year's Day (Nowy Rok) - 1 January is a public holiday, with non-official and non-religious celebrations taking part around midnight between January 1 and December 31 of the preceding year.
- Epiphany (Święto Trzech Króli or Objawienie Pańskie) - 6 January - is the first day of the carnival period. In many Polish cities, merry parades are organised to commemorate the biblical Wise Men.
- Easter (Wielkanoc or Niedziela Wielkanocna), a movable feast that is scheduled according to the moon calendar, usually in March or April. Like Christmas, it is primarily a meaningful Christian holiday. On the Saturday before Easter, churches offer special services in anticipation of the holiday, including blessing of food; children especially like to attend these services, bringing small baskets of painted eggs and candy to be blessed. On Easter Sunday, practicing Catholics go to the morning mass, followed by a celebratory breakfast made of foods blessed the day before. On Easter Sunday, shops, malls, and restaurants are commonly closed.
- Lany Poniedziałek, or Śmigus Dyngus, is the Monday after Easter, and also a holiday. It's the day of an old tradition with pagan roots: groups of kids and teens wandering around, looking to soak each other with water. Often groups of boys will try to catch groups of girls, and vice versa; but innocent passers-by are not exempt from the game, and are expected to play along. Common 'weapons' include water guns and water balloons, but children, especially outdoors and in the countryside, like to use buckets and have no mercy on passers-by. (Drivers - this means keep your windows wound up or you're likely to get soaked.) Despite its light-hearted nature, it is indeed a public holiday.
- Labour Day (Święto Pracy) - 1 May is of absolutely lay nature and not of special religious or national significance, but a public holiday as well. Politically inspired parades and rallies are often organized, especially in larger cities, and it is best to avoid them as opposing political factions often collide and police will usually close off the area where parades and rallies are held. Combined with May 3 (see below), this holiday provides for a surefire long weekend in most years and will see many Poles enjoy a holiday outside of their place of residence.
- Constitution Day (Święto Konstytucji Trzeciego Maja) - 3 May, celebrated in remembrance of the Constitution of 3 May 1791. The document was a highly progressive attempt at political reform, and it was Europe's first constitution (and world's second, after the US). Following the partitions, the original constitution became a highly poignant symbol of national identity and ideals.
- Pentecost (Zesłanie Ducha Świętego or Zielone Świątki) - movable feast, celebrated 7 weeks after Easter, which is always on a Sunday. It is a relatively low-key religious holiday compared to the other listed, or the way it is celebrated in predominantly Protestant countries. Since this is a Sunday, it may make little difference in some cases and some Poles do not even know it is a public holiday, but in case of establishments normally open on Sundays you may find them closed on that day. Pentecost is a two-day holiday in many countries, but the second day (Monday) is not a public holiday and not widely celebrated in Poland.
- The Feast of Corpus Christi (Boże Ciało) - another movable feast, is celebrated on the Thursday after Trinity Sunday, or sixty days after Easter. It is celebrated across the country; in smaller locations virtually the whole village or town becomes involved in a procession, and all traffic is stopped as the procession weaves its way through the streets.
- Assumption (Wniebowzięcie Najświętszej Marii Panny) coinciding with Day of the Polish Military (Święto Wojska Polskiego) - 15 August, commemorating the victory of the Polish Army over the invading Soviet (Red) Army in the Battle of Warsaw. The victory was attributed by the religious to the influence of the Virgin Mary. The day is thus marked with Catholic religious festivities and military parades.
- All Saints Day (Wszystkich Świętych) - 1 November. In the afternoon people visit graves of their relatives and light candles. After dusk cemeteries glow with thousands of lights and offer a very picturesque scene. If you have the chance, be sure to visit a cemetery to witness the holiday. Many restaurants, bars and cafés will either be closed or close earlier than usual on this holiday.
- Independence Day (Narodowe Święto Niepodległości) - 11 November, celebrated to commemorate Poland's independence in 1918, after 123 years of partitions and occupation by Austria, Prussia and Russia. Some somber official celebrations, and another slew of politically-inspired rallies are bound to be held. Neither would be of particular interest or especially accessible to most tourists. There are also big patriotic demonstrations and marches in larger cities, especially in Warsaw, where they usually end with riots.
- Christmas Eve (Wigilia Bożego Narodzenia or simply Wigilia) - 24 December is not a public holiday, but for the Poles may be more important to celebrate than Christmas Day. It is definitely the year's most important feast. According to Catholic tradition, celebration of liturgical feasts starts in the evening of the preceding day (a vigil, hence wigilia). In Polish folklore, this translates into a special family dinner, which traditionally calls for a twelve-course meatless meal (representing the twelve apostles), which is supposed to begin in the evening, after the first star can be spotted in the night sky. On Christmas Eve most stores will close around two or three in the afternoon at the latest out of respect for traditions rather than the law. It is also a Polish tradition to do not leave anybody alone on Christmas Eve, so Polish people tend to be extremely hospitable on the evening and on many occasions will invite their lonely friends to participate in the traditional dinner (which is disappointing when turned down). It is also acceptable to ask your friends if you could join them if you're alone. There's also a tradition of Midnight Mass on that day (Pasterka), when Christmas carols are sung.
- Christmas (Boże Narodzenie) - 25 and 26 December. On Christmas day people usually stay home and enjoy meals and meetings with families and sometimes close friends. Everything apart from essential services will be closed and public transport will be severely limited.
- New Year's Eve (Sylwester) - 31 December is not a public holiday, but many businesses will close early. Pretty much all hotels, restaurants, bars and clubs will host special balls or parties, requiring previous reservations and carrying hefty price tags. In cities, free open-air parties with live music and firework displays are organized by the authorities on central squares.