A variety of holidays, including several (Catholic) religious festivals and many significant anniversaries, have been recognized as public by legislation, as mentioned below. Most service and retail shops, other businesses, museums, galleries, other attractions, and government offices are obliged to shut completely on certain days. Plan ahead of time if you need to go shopping, utilize a service, or do formal business.
These closures exclude restaurants, petrol stations, and pharmacies. Small shops sometimes take use of a legal gap that enables businesses owned by owners to stay open – this applies to virtually all abka neighborhood convenience stores. Having said that, many may have reduced or closed their hours, since there is no legal obligation for them to remain open. In bigger cities, your choices may be restricted, but you should be able to eat and drink, conduct basic shopping, and so on. The local gas station may be your sole option in tiny towns and villages.
On public holidays, most modes of public transportation will operate on a Sunday timetable, which generally implies less frequent operations. Some links, such as peak bus routes, do not run at all on such days (“Sunday service”).
If a public holiday occurs on a Tuesday or Thursday, many Poles use the Monday before or Friday after to enjoy a “long weekend.” Recognizing this, many businesses and government agencies will be closed on certain days as well. Be aware that roads and railways may become very crowded on the days long weekends begin or finish, so plan accordingly. Prices in tourist areas may increase, and accommodations may be sold out months in advance. Large cities, on the other hand, often become relatively empty, which has both benefits and drawbacks for visitors visiting them.
Catholic holy festivals are extensively observed in Poland, and many of them include colorful and fascinating activities as well as local customs. On such days, the majority of the people, particularly in smaller towns and villages, will attend and participate in church services. It is traditional to join one’s family for celebration dinners and gatherings around Christmas and Easter, which frequently bring together family members from far away, thus many Poles will go to their home towns or relatives outside of their place of residence. It is uncommon to spend those holidays abroad (unless visiting relatives) or to have celebration dinners in restaurants, but many hotels and restaurants will provide Christmas and Easter meals.
The following is a list of public holidays and other significant holidays, along with a short explanation of how Poles commemorate them. Please keep in mind that all religious festivals related to Easter are moveable and may occur on a different day each year, as well as within a four-week time period. If you intend to visit Poland between March and June, be sure to verify the precise dates.
- New Year’s Day (Nowy Rok) – The first of January is a public holiday, with non-official and non-religious festivities taking place between January 1 and December 31 of the previous year, around midnight.
- Epiphany (Święto Trzech Króli or Objawienie Pańskie) – 6 January – The opening day of the carnival season is January 6th. Many Polish towns have festive parades to honor the biblical Wise Men.
- Easter (Wielkanoc or Niedziela Wielkanocna), a moveable feast held according to the lunar calendar, typically in March or April. It is mainly a significant Christian festival, similar to Christmas. On the Saturday before Easter, churches have special services, including the blessing of food; children, in particular, like attending these events, bringing little baskets of decorated eggs and sweets to be blessed. On Easter Sunday, devout Catholics attend mass in the morning, followed by a celebration brunch prepared from delicacies consecrated the day before. Shops, malls, and restaurants are often closed on Easter Sunday.
- Lany Poniedziałek, or Śmigus Dyngus, is the Monday after Easter, and also a holiday. It’s the day of an ancient pagan tradition: groups of youngsters and teenagers roaming about, seeking to soak each other in water. Often, groups of males will attempt to capture groups of girls, and vice versa; however, innocent bystanders are not immune from the game and are encouraged to participate. Water pistols and water balloons are common ‘weapons,’ but youngsters, particularly in the outdoors and in the countryside, prefer to utilize buckets and show no compassion on passers-by. (Drivers, this means keep your windows closed or you’ll be drenched.) It is, in fact, a public holiday, despite its lighthearted character.
- Labour Day (Święto Pracy) – 1 May is purely secular in character, with no particular religious or national importance, although it is also a public holiday. Politically motivated parades and rallies are common, particularly in bigger cities, and it is better to avoid them since different political groups often clash, and police will generally block off the area where parades and rallies are conducted. When combined with May 3 (see below), this holiday guarantees a long weekend in most years, and many Poles will celebrate a holiday away from home.
- Constitution Day (Święto Konstytucji Trzeciego Maja) – May 3rd is National Constitution Day, commemorating the signing of the Declaration of Independence on May 3, 1791. The text was Europe’s first constitution (and the world’s second, after the United States), and it was a very progressive effort at democratic reform. Following partition, the original constitution became a powerful emblem of national identity and values.
- Pentecost (Zesłanie Ducha Świętego or Zielone Świątki) – a moveable feast held 7 weeks after Easter, usually on a Sunday It is a low-key religious festival in comparison to the others mentioned, or to how it is observed in mainly Protestant nations. Because it is a Sunday, it may make little difference in certain instances, and some Poles may be unaware that it is an official holiday, although businesses that are usually open on Sundays may be closed on that day. In many countries, Pentecost is a two-day holiday, however the second day (Monday) is not an official holiday and is not commonly observed in Poland.
- The Feast of Corpus Christi (Boże Ciało) – Another moveable feast, this one is observed on the Thursday after Trinity Sunday, or sixty days after Easter. It is observed across the nation; in smaller towns, practically the whole hamlet or town participates in a parade, and all traffic is halted while 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 in the Battle of Warsaw against the invading Soviet (Red) Army. The devout ascribed the triumph to the Virgin Mary’s intervention. As a result, the day is celebrated with Catholic religious celebrations and military parades.
- All Saints Day (Wszystkich Świętych) – 1 November. People light candles and visit their relatives’ graves in the afternoon. Cemeteries shine with hundreds of lights after dark, creating a really beautiful sight. If you have the opportunity, go to a cemetery to observe the occasion. On this holiday, many restaurants, pubs, and cafés will be closed or will shut earlier than normal.
- Independence Day (Narodowe Święto Niepodległości) – 11 November, is commemorated to commemorate Poland’s freedom from Austria, Prussia, and Russia after 123 years of partitions and domination. There will undoubtedly be some solemn formal celebrations, as well as a spate of politically motivated demonstrations. Neither would be very interesting or easily accessible to the majority of visitors. There are also huge patriotic rallies and marches in bigger cities, particularly Warsaw, which typically result in violence.
- Christmas Eve (Wigilia Bożego Narodzenia or simply Wigilia) – The 24th of December is not a public holiday, although it may be more significant to Poles to celebrate than Christmas Day. It is without a doubt the most significant feast of the year. Liturgical feasts, according to Catholic tradition, begin in the evening of the previous day (a vigil, thus wigilia). This translates into a special family supper in Polish folklore, which traditionally calls for a twelve-course vegetarian meal (representing the twelve apostles), which is meant to begin in the evening, after the first star can be seen in the night sky. On Christmas Eve, most shops will shut by two or three o’clock in the afternoon, rather than three o’clock in the morning, out of respect for customs rather than the law. It is also a Polish custom not to leave anybody alone on Christmas Eve, therefore Polish people are very friendly on the evening and would often ask their lonely friends to join in the traditional meal (which is disappointing when turned down). If you are alone, it is equally appropriate to ask your friends if you might join them. On that day (Pasterka), there is also a custom of Midnight Mass, during which Christmas songs are performed.
- Christmas (Boże Narodzenie) – 25 and 26 December. On Christmas Day, most people remain at home and enjoy dinners and gatherings with family and close friends. Except for vital services, everything will be closed, and public transportation will be severely restricted.
- New Year’s Eve (Sylwester) – Although the 31st of December is not an official holiday, many companies will shut early. Almost all hotels, restaurants, pubs, and clubs will hold special balls or parties, which will need advance bookings and cost a lot of money. Authorities in cities arrange free open-air celebrations with live music and fireworks displays in major squares.