The Polish calendar has many festivals and public holidays which are unfamiliar to Britons. Many will be moveable feasts which can take place at differing times. These will have a direct bearing on they way you plan your marketing and human resources for 2013.
New Year's Day (Tuesday)
Do siego nowego roku! (Don't ask for a translation - few Poles can explain what this traditional Polish New Year's greeting means). 1 January falls on a Tuesday in 2013 and is a public holiday.
6 January (Sunday)
Three Kings' – the twelfth night. Since 2011 a public holiday. The quid pro quo for introducing this additional new public holiday was that public holidays falling on weekends would no longer be replaced by days off in lieu during the next week. So this year, Three Kings will not be a day off work. You can take your office Christmas decorations down today, or, like more traditional Poles, keep them up until Candlemass Day on 2 February (see below).
Finał WOŚP (Sunday 13 January)
The finale of the Wielka Orkiestra Świątecznej Pomocy, ('Great Orchestra of Christmas Charity') is Poland's biggest 'flag day' style event, with volunteers shaking collecting boxes everywhere, usually on the second Sunday of January. This 'Band Aid' style charity event organised by Jerzy Owsiak every year since 1993 has become a landmark on the way to Poland becoming a civil society. Each year, tens of millions of zlotys are gathered in and passed onto children's hospitals, and starting this year, to old peoples' charities. The least you can do is to stuff a large bill into a collecting box and wear your large, red, heart-shaped badge on your warm winter coat with pride. Corporate support also welcome (and highly visible)!
Carnival (1 January – 12 February)
The New Year signals the beginning of karnawał. While the Rio carnival or New Orleans' Mardi Gras last but a few days, Poland has the longest carnival in the world - a fact that its tourist promotion body has failed to exploit. Carnival lasts from 1 January to Shrove Tuesday (12 February), the ideal antidote to long, cold, dark nights, when Spring still seems a long, long way off. This is the time to party, to dance, to feast - for businesses the ideal excuse for press launches, off-site staff events, mixers, mingles and anything else involving people, music, drink and a party atmosphere. Caution: It can be difficult hiring function rooms etc at hotels during this time - plan ahead. Even if Easter is relatively early this year, Carnival is still very long!
Ferie (14 January-24 February)
The Polish education system has two semesters rather than three terms (trimesters) that the UK has. Christmas and Easter are shorter breaks than in the UK, there are no half terms (but then summer holidays are longer). Instead, there are ferie - a two week break half-way through the school year. This occurs from mid-January to late-February, corresponding with the peak winter sports season. To avoid massive ski-queues and overcrowded resorts, the ferie breaks are staggered province by province, and rotate each year.
Dates for ferie for 2013 below:
Monday 14 January – Sunday 27 January
Kujawsko-Pomorskie, Lubuskie, Małopolskie, Świętokrzyskie, Wielkopolskie
Monday 21 January – Sunday 3 February
Monday 28 January – Sunday 10 February
Dolnośląskie, Mazowieckie, Opolskie, Zachodniopomorskie
Monday 11 February – Sunday 24 February
Lubelskie, Łódzkie, Pomorskie, Podkarpackie, Śląskie
21 January (Friday) - Dzień Babci - Grandmothers keep Poland going as a country with a strongly traditional and matriarchal society, if you have one, remember her!
Matka Boska Gromniczna
Our Lady of the Candles - Candlemass Day - on 2 February (Saturday) marks the traditional 'end of Christmas' when all Christmas decorations finally come down - those not taken down on 6 January. The preceding Sunday (27 January) is the last day that carols are sung.
St Valentine's Day
'Walentynki' is one western tradition that has been eagerly adopted by Poles since the free market took over from communism. 14 February is the one day of the year when you can guarantee that all restaurants are full. Falls on a Thursday in 2013.
Lit. "The Hundred Dayer" – a hundred days before taking their matura, (equivalent of UK 'A' Levels - exams taken at the end of secondary education), final-year high-school pupils hold a formal dance. This is the nearest Poland has to a Prom ball, but logically, before the exams. The date of the Big Night varies from school to school, on Saturdays in late January or February
Tłusty Czwartek (7 February)
While the rest of the Catholic world has Mardi Gras or 'fat Tuesday', Poland has a 'fat Thursday' (tłusty czwartek) in the week preceding Shrove Tuesday, noted for the consumption of doughnuts and other baked products. Bring a large number to the office to share.
Shrove Tuesday in Polish is Ostatki, literally "The Lasts". Not content with binging on doughnuts and other deep-fried cake products on Fat Thursday, Poles also do Shrove Tuesday. Ostatki was the final, final fling before Lent, when the last of meat, cakes, ale, mead, etc was consumed. Expect some sore-headed employees in the office on Ash Wednesday!
Lent (13 February – 31 March)
From Ash Wednesday (13 February) to Easter Saturday (31 March). Taken far more seriously than in the UK. Not a good time for product launches, office parties etc; many Poles will be giving up alcohol, cakes, confectionery, dancing and loud music for the duration. Calendar Lent lasts 46 days. According to the Church however, it is only 40 days. The difference is Sundays, during which eating of meat, consumption of alcohol, etc, is permitted. [But given that the liver is the only human organ with the ability to regenerate, Lent is a great occasion to give up drink for the whole period, detoxify the body, and all in good time to get in shape for the beach!]
8 March: Women's Day
A leftover communist-era celebration which in those days would be marked by female employees getting very, very drunk. Today increasingly more of a feminists' day. Celebrated rather with potted plants, daffodils (modern) or red carnations (traditional). This year it falls on a Friday.
17 March (Sunday): St Patrick's Day
For some reason, Ireland's national day has become very popular with students in Warsaw. Irish expats will find a large number of Warsaw pubs and restaurants putting on Celtic dancing, folk singing and extra barrels of Guinness on the night. Despite it being the middle of Lent.
21 March: First Day of Spring
Celebrated in rural Poland with Topienie Marzanny (the drowning of Marzanna), in which a straw figure of a woman, dressed in white robes, symbolising Winter, is paraded around the village and thrown into the nearest river, pond or lake. This is also Dzień wagarowicza - traditionally "bunking off school day"; it falls on a Thursday in 2013. Weatherwise, it can still be snowy for a few weeks yet...
Palm Sunday (24 March)
Church processions will be seen in the streets around churches, people will carry branches of willow to get blessed by the priests.
Last Weekend of March
Clocks go forward one hour at 02:00 on Sunday 31 March, yielding a welcome extra hour of daylight in the evening. At the same time as the UK switches to British Summer Time, so Poland, on Central European Time, is always one hour ahead of the UK. See also Last Weekend of October. There may still be anomalous weather – heavy snow in mid-April, but generally, drivers can replace their winter tyres with ordinary rubber.
Good Friday (29 March), Easter Saturday and Easter Sunday (31 March) are the culmination of the religious year. Barely visible in the UK, yet taken seriously in Poland. Shops decorated accordingly (chicks, lambs, spring greenery). Paradoxically, Good Friday is not a public holiday in Poland – though it is in agnostic UK. On Saturday, many people will go to their church to have a basket of food (traditionally a hard boiled egg, some bread, salt and sausage) blessed by the priest. In larger towns there is also the tradition of going from church to church to visit the Tomb of Jesus. Easter Sunday traditionally begins with the Resurrection Mass, which should begin before day-break, can last even three hours, includes the singing of all 14 verses of the Te Deum and a litany to all the Saints, burning of candles and incense and much ringing of bells. At home afterwards, Easter is celebrated with a large breakfast meal, including much meat (sausages and hams, blessed the previous day, salads and the sharing of the symbolic egg). Note: You may expect egg-sharing in the office too. If so, you will receive a quarter of a hard-boiled egg, and go from person to person pinching off a bit of theirs and wishing them all the best.
Schools are closed from Thursday 28 March to Tuesday 2 April, re-opening on Wednesday 3 April.
1April is a public holiday. Warning: It is also lany poniedziałek or śmingus dingus - the traditional Polish water-throwing festival. What was once a rural fertility ritual, with young men chasing the girls with buckets of water drawn from the well, has become an urban soak-orgy with plastic drinks bottles full of puddle-water which can engulf the unwary. Wear your raincoat even if it's sunny!
1 May (Wednesday)
Another communist-era celebration, marked with a day off work. 1 May regularly sees city centre clashes between old-fashioned communists and old-fashioned nationalists. The closeness of this public holiday and the National Day (3 May) means that this week is invariably interrupted. This year, expect very few people to come to work on Thursday 2 May.
3 May (Friday)
Trzeciego maja - a real national holiday celebrating Poland's first written constitution, back in 1791 - not too long after the US, the first in Europe. Usually coinciding with the first hot days of the year, a time to rejoice in sunshine by leaving town and communing with nature in forests, by lakes and rivers or walks through the blossoming countryside. National flags will be flown.
Zimni Ogrodnicy, Zimna Zośka 12-15 May
"The Cold Gardeners" St Pancras, (Pankracy - 12 May), St Servatus (Serwacy - 13 May), St Boniface (Bonifacy -14 May) and St Sophia (Zofia - 15 May). These four days are usually accompanied by a sudden cold snap after the first few weeks of beautiful spring weather. Avoid outdoor events (as the author can vouch, having shivered through several barbecues held during this time). Zofia's name day is commonly celebrated by Zosias all over Poland.
First Holy Communion
Eight year-olds will have their first Holy Communion throughout May and into June; an occasion to dress daughters in fine expensive white dresses and to buy children bicycles - now increasingly laptops. "Second best time of year for computer sales," said one dealer, "after Christmas".
26 May - Mother's Day
Taken seriously by Poland's children of all ages, a day to remember that 'Matka Polka' (the Polish Mother) is the single most important factor in keeping the nation and society together. Mothers may wish to take a few hours off work to hear their offspring on stage at primary school singing songs and reciting poems praising motherhood – but not this year, as it falls on a Sunday.
1 June - Children's Day
Poles genuinely love children. Tears well up in their eyes at the very thought of the Little Ones. On Children's Day, Poles buy them toys, take them on picnics or to the cinema. Many Polish firms will organise family picnics around this day. Warsaw Metro celebrates the day by getting nursery school children to announce the names of the stations. The family is still considered very important in Polish society, as are children. A Saturday this year.
Corpus Christi (Thursday 30 May)
A Holy Day of Obligation and a national holiday. A movable feast, always on a Thursday, which means many staff will want to take Friday off to give them a four-day weekend. Many processions held in towns and villages around Poland, watch out for diversions when driving around in rural parts.
Friday 21 June, St John's Eve. The longest day is traditionally celebrated coinciding as it nearly does with Johns' names-days (actually on 24th and 26th of June). In rural parts, celebrated by maidens casting floral wreaths into rivers, to be fished out by the man destined to marry the one who cast the wreath. Many prywatki (private house parties) hosted by Jans across Poland. Wish them wszystkiego najlepszego z okazji imienin.
End of the School Year
Polish schools have two terms rather than three, with no half-terms and shorter Christmas and Easter breaks. However, they have longer summer holidays, breaking up at the end of June. This year, the school year officially ends on Friday 28 June. The last day of the school year is marked by ceremonies, diplomas, flower-giving, speeches, songs etc. Expect parents to ask for part of the day off.
Ten weeks between 29 June and 1 September. It is a myth that "nothing happens". Even assuming that all your staff or clients fall into that happy group of Poles able to afford a two-week holiday – and take it at this time – during any given time during this ten-week period you should statistically still be able to find eight-tenths of staff behind their desks. However, new business is difficult - because two or more signatures are required on most pieces of paper, and most prezesi will be on foreign holidays, you may have to wait quite a while for that umowa to come back signed by the other party!
1 August (Thursday)
Warsaw is decked out in national and city (red-and-yellow) flags commemorating the outbreak of the Uprising in 1944. At precisely 17:00 - H-Hour - all the capital's sirens sound. Time to contemplate the fact that over 200,000 Poles died (more than the number of Japanese killed by the combined blasts at Hiroshima and Nagasaki) and that 85% of the city was destroyed in the two-month long effort to free the capital from the Nazis, while the Red Army watched on from across the river.
15 August (Thursday)
The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Public holiday. Celebrating the bodily lifting into heaven of Jesus Christ's mother (niebowzięcie, as opposed to Jesus's Ascension - niebowstąpienie). Always on the same day of the year, no processions. Marks the winding down of the summer holiday season. The day also marks the 'Miracle on the Vistula' (Cud nad Wisłą) of 1920, when the Polish army under Marshal Piłsudski saved Europe from the Bolshevik hordes sweeping westwards bound for Berlin and Paris. Expect military marches and a fly-past in Warsaw.
New School Year, Monday 2 September
The school year runs from the beginning of September to the end of the penultimate week of June. The first day (Monday 2 September this year) is marked by formal school ceremonies, pupils dressed in neat white shirts. Parents of younger children will often ask for the morning off to attend.
The harvest festival, expect to see garlanded politicians breaking bread with peasants. As good a time as any to sell consumer durables to Poland's rural population.
Last weekend of October
Clocks go back for winter at 02:00 on Sunday 27 October. Same weekend as the UK goes over to Greenwich Mean Time. Prepare for five months of unremitting gloom. See also Last Weekend of March. A good time to switch to winter tyres, as normal tyres' grip starts deteriorating at around +6 degrees C.
1 November (Friday) - All Saints' Day (Wszystkich Świętych)
A national holiday, with 80% of Poles visiting the graves of their departed family members. Cemeteries are ablaze with candles and votive lamps, bought in the preceding weeks in their tens of millions. Day often coincides with first frosts of the year, fogs and poor driving conditions just as half of Poland takes the road. Take care when driving, avoid large urban cemeteries (huge traffic jams). The US tradition of Hallowe'en has failed to take off big-time in post-1989 Poland largely because of the intense and very real significance of 1 November.
11 November (Friday) - Independence Day
Marking Poland's re-emergence as a nation state in 1918, a national holiday celebrated with military parades, patriotic speeches and a day off work. National flags will be flown. Sadly, another occasion for left and right-wing groups to clash in city centres.
Andrzejki - 30 November (Saturday) - St Andrew's Day
Another popular names-day in Poland. Traditionally involves fortune telling with dripping wax. Raise a glass to Andrzej (or Jędrzej in Old Polish) and wish him "Wszystkiego najlepszego z okazji imienin!" A big night out, so take care when driving home.
Barbórki - 4 December (Sunday) - St Barbara's Day
Given the huge number of Barbaras in Poland, this is a name-day that involves flower- and chocolate-giving and making a big fuss over all the many ladies with this Christian name. St Barbara is the patron saint of Poland's miners, so the day is an occasion for them to don their gala uniforms, eat, drink and swap tales of deeds underground...
In the UK a time of garish Xmas advertising, starting earlier and earlier each year. In Poland still a traditional time of waiting for the Saviour's Birth. Some fasting, less than during Lent, some people will be getting up extremely early and going to 6 o’clock Mass every morning (roraty) in the run-up to Christ's Mass.
Christmas Eve (Tuesday 24 December) is the big event, rather than the First Day of Christmas, which falls on a Tuesday in 2013. Although not officially a public holiday, expect many people to want to take the day off, especially women who traditionally will be getting the wigilia ('vigil') feast prepared. The 12-course, meat-free meal begins with the symbolic breaking and sharing of the host (opłatek), which you may find your self sharing with your office staff just before you break up for Christmas (analogous to the Easter egg, see 'Easter' above). Highlight of the wigilia meal is the carp, usually bought live a few days before hand, kept in the bath, then killed, filleted and shallow fried. And wash back the carp and herring with vodka -bo ryba lubi pływać (because fish likes to swim). Christmas Day and Boxing Day (Wednesday and Thursday 25 and 26 December) are both days off work.
31 December (Tuesday) - Sylwestra - St. Sylvester's Eve - Polish New Year's
Not a public holiday. Celebrated increasingly in the western style, a post-1989 novelty being large, alcohol-fuelled gatherings in public spaces where champagne is drunk and the next day the TV announces how many tonnes of broken glass has been swept from market squares in Kraków, Poznań, Warsaw, Gdańsk etc. This is Poland's fireworks night, putting Guy Fawkes to shame. January 1st 2014 falls on a Wednesday, so a day off to recover in the middle of the working week.