With Christmas right around the corner, you cannot walk into a store without hearing such classics as “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” or “Frosty the Snowman.” Indeed, the wonderful sounds of the season pleasantly surround us, which is why I’m taking the occasion to share some Polish Christmas carols with you.
Caroling represents an integral part of the Polish Christmas celebration. In Poland, the word for carol is “kolęda.” Some kolędy date back to the 15th century. Although the people who wrote them have long been forgotten, the songs have survived through the centuries in the voices of Polish carolers walking from door to door during the Christmas season.
Click on the title of each carol to be taken to an English translation (I couldn’t find translations for them all, unfortunately).
Bóg Się Rodzi (God is Born)
Perhaps the most famous Polish kolęda is Bóg się rodzi (God is born). The lyrics were written in 1792 by Franciszek Karpiński. The music was written centuries earlier by an unknown composer and served as the coronation hymn for Polish kings.
Gdy Się Chrystus Rodzi (As Christ is Born)
This well-known hymn was likely composed in the early Baroque period, perhaps as far back as 1600. Some experts believe its origins lie in France, but, as with many of these songs, it’s very difficult to say for sure due to sparse records. The earliest printed version dates from 1843.
Anioł Pasterzom Mówił (The Angel Told the Shepherds)
Written in the 16th century, this is among the oldest Polish kolędy. It’s musical origins can actually be traced back to Latin hymns first sung during the Middle Ages. I get chills thinking of how many generations of Poles sung this carol throughout the centuries.
Gdy Śliczna Panna (When the Lovely Virgin Mary)
This soothing kolęda was composed by an anonymous author in the early 18th century. Its lyrics describe the Blessed Virgin Mary rocking the baby Jesus as he sleeps. Female monasteries in Poland have a particular affinity for this song.
Przybieżeli do Betlejem (They Came to Bethlehem)
First composed in the 16th century by Jan of Lublin, this kolęda has undergone various changes throughout the years—once in the 17th century and again in the 19th century. It tells of the shepards’ arrival to Bethlehem.
W Dzień Bożego Narodzenia (On Christmas Day)
Happy and festive, it’s the perfect kolęda to mark Christ’s birth and celebrate the joy of the season. It was composed in the 17th century. Unfortunately, it’s not heard as often anymore, only rarely being sung in Polish churches.
Wśród Nocnej Ciszy (In the Night’s Stillness)
Composed at the turn of the 19th century, this kolęda was first written down in 1853 in a church hymn book by Fr. Michał Marcin Mioduszewski. Traditionally, it opens the midnight Mass at Polish churches on Christmas Eve.
Dzisiaj w Betlejem (Today in Bethlehem)
The earliest reference for this Polish kolęda comes from an 1878 church hymnal. As is the case with many other kolędy, the author is unknown, but it describes the birth of Christ in Bethlehem.
Pójdźmy Wszyscy do Stajenki (Let us All go to the Stable)
This kolęda’s lyrics date to the 18th century, and the music was added a hundred years later. Its marching song-type beat is appropriate given that it’s all about visiting the stable where the baby Jesus lies.
Lulajże Jezuniu (Sleep, Little Jesus)
This is, without a doubt, one of the most beautiful Polish kolędy, as it’s written as a lullaby for the baby Jesus. Dating back to the 1600s, the hymn has been a staple of Polish families’ Christmas Eve caroling traditions for centuries and an inspiration for composers like Frédéric Chopin.
Above was just a taste of the hundreds of Polish kolędy sung throughout time. Poland is widely recognized for having among the most varied number of Christmas carols of any country. Unfortunately, most have probably been forgotten, having never been written down.
Maybe, just maybe, if you happen to visit an old Polish village on a cold Christmas night and listen closely, you may hear the echoes of generations of Polish carolers reverberating in the frosty wind.