In Poland a New Year's Eve is called commonly sylwester. Every day in a Polish calendar is devoted to a saint. The celebration of the name is called namesday (Polish - imieniny). Often namesday is much more important in a life of a Pole than a birthday, except of some important birthdays like 18, 25, 50 etc. Since not every name has its saint but everybody want to have a namesday - some names are addigned to a calendar on a certain day even without a saint!
Poles, especially young people, used to prepare for a New Year's celebration a many weeks ahead! There was a social pressure to go to the party instead of staying home. Some people believed that only elderly, children and losers could spend a New Year's Eve at home.
Saint Sylvester, a bishop of Rome who died in year 335, happened to be a patron of the last day in a year therefore his name is commonly used as a name of this day.
In the past Poles celebrated Sylvester (sylwester) usually on the parties indoors - either in a private house or in a restaurant. Sometimes balls were organized by companies for their employers, by towns or by different political or non-political organizations. The main ingredients for such parties and balls to be successful - was lots of dancing and lots of alcohol, sometimes even too much. These parties and balls usually lasted till the early morning.
There was also a central celebration of Sylvester in Congress Hall (Sala Kongresowa) of Polish Parliament where the highest dignitaries of Polish communistic party were seen dancing with their wives. In the contrary to Christmas, which was rather avoided because of its religious connotations by communistic leaders, Sylvester was celebrated very much! In the main evening TV news we could see our main party leader to wish us Happy New Year.
The TV program was usually quite interesting, with many concerts, balls broadcasted live, interesting movies (also from Western Europe and the USA) etc.
At the very midnight the most popular television speakers were taking part in a ceremony of opening the bottle of champagne and wishing each other and all of us a happy New Year (we had just one later two TV programs in that time, so you could not miss it). The speakers were usually sitting while announcing the program, this was the only time when they had to stand. It just happened that the most popular TV speaker, Jan Suzin, was a very tall man and the most popular TV speaker, Edyta Wojtczak, was a petite woman. So, seeing them to greet each other was interesting since they had such a different size.
Until now it is very popular among students to spend Sylvester evening in the mountains, sometimes in a shepherd shed, more often organizing a trip to the mountain chapel or mountain hostel. Such Sylvester is a wonderful experience, if the weather would cooperate.
The tradition of celebrating Sylvester outdoors on the main squares of the towns did not really kicked out until maybe 10-15 years ago. Now this is definitively the most popular way to spend a New Year's Eve. It also saves the headache and a stress where to go!
After Sylvester the happy time of carnival starts. Poles like dancing a lot and they use this time to organize balls and other occasions to dance a lot! The carnival is not that pompous like in Brasil or Argentina and it finishes with Ash Wednesday.
Extensive selection of Polish carols is at: http://culture.polishsite.us/articles/art125.html
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