One of my earliest childhood memories of Christmas is going to midnight Mass (after our traditional Christmas Eve dinner–Wigilia) and hearing the choir at my grandparent’s decidedly Polish Catholic Church in rural Thorp, Wisconsin (St. Hedwig’s) singing Polish Christmas Carols–kolędy. I recall my amazement when they sang “Silent Night” with strange words: “cicha noc, święta noc.…” And I recall a few others that they sang, including the beautiful melody of Lulajeże Jezuniu–it sounds like a lullaby, which it is! And then there was the magnificent strains of Triumfy–even the names sounds like a trumpet call of magnificent proportions! And there were others as well, but those three I remember the most for their uniqueness and significance in my memory.
But Midnight Mass (Pasterka) and the accompanying kolędy was more than just the Mass and song, it was the whole experience of the magic of Christmas, and as child I was (fortunately) brought up experiencing a decidedly Polish cultural experience of Christmas–and I am forever grateful to my Polish grandparents and parents for giving me that experience, I am truly blessed. My first Christmases were immersed in the Polish experience of Christmas, and I have never outgrown that. I remember the passing of the opłatek at Wigilia, the Polish phrase we were “forced” to say after Grandpa’s prayer in Polish (we had to respond: daj Boże miłosierdzie–God have mercy), that was particularly memorable–and I’ve give most anything today to know what it was Grandpa prayed in Polish, but I knew it was good, for family, for health, for prosperity, and for God’s blessings on the family for another year. And then there was the food of the gods–pierogi! OMG, I loved pierogi and it was something we only enjoyed at Christmas, but my, how we enjoyed them. [As a teenager one year, my brother and I had a pierogi-eating contest and I think I ate 14 of them, and he about the same!]
So for me, Christmas has always been very special and decidedly Polish in nature. For many years now, I celebrate Wigilia in my own home, with family and friends, sharing “my” Polish Christmas customs with them. My dream is to one year spend Christmas in Poland, but even if I don’t, I feel like I’ve already done it, and been doing it for many years.
But this article is about my love of kolędy, and my, how I love them! I own probably about 30 or more CDs of kolędy by many various artists. And I listen to all of them every year during the Christmas season. I listen to kolędy in my car, on headphones as I’m walking, in the house–I listen everywhere. And I sing along. Yes, I do. Out loud, too! Some years back I made (and continue to update) my own booklet of the text of the kolędy (po polsku, oczywiśće), and I know the words of many of them by heart, at least a few verses, and most all the choruses. I know the meaning of some of the words–but not all–but am working on that as well. I’ve found or created literal translations of some of the kolędy and that helps me as I work to learn Polish myself. I have several music books and play kolędy on my keyboard or the guitar. I have a lot of Facebook and YouTube sites where I can find, listen to, and enjoy kolędy. And every so often I find a new one that just gives me no end of joy.
I recall a few years ago when i first discovered “Polish Village Christmas,” a series of Polish Christmas folks song done in górale style–I am 1/4 góral by the way. The one particular song was Ej Byliśmy Bracia–Hey We Were Brothers–and I just loved the bright melody. And then I’ve found so many haunting renditions of Oj maluśki, maluśki–what a beautiful song. I could go on and on about all the kolędy I love, but I love all of them! My love of kolędy is just amazing to me. There are so many great koledy, new and old, that I could go on and on and on. To pick only a few seems somewhat unjust, as there is no kolęda that I’ve not fallen in love with.
In closing, why not leave me a comment here about your favorite kolęda–what is it and why. I’d enjoy hearing from you. I’ve only touched the surface here, and maybe I can learn of one I have not heard before–that would bring joy to my heart!