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According to the 2013 survey conducted by the Public Opinion Research Center (CBOS), as many as 72 per cent of Poles opposes commercialization of holidays. Despite this opposition, many people celebrate various holidays in a way dictated by pop culture. Doctor Karol Jachymek, cultural expert from SWPS University explains what shapes our celebrations and rituals.

Commercial Aspect of Holidays

Dziady (meaning Forefathers - an ancient Slavic holiday commemorating the dead) or Halloween? Opening of Christmas presents on Christmas Eve or on Christmas morning? Kupala Night (a Slavic summer solstice holiday) or Valentine’s Day? Increasingly, foreign traditions are making their way into the Polish culture and the holiday spirit is more often than not created by the commercial rather than spiritual factors.

One of these holidays is Halloween and it has been slowly encroaching onto the Polish holiday calendar. It is a great marketing occasion to sell Halloween candy, costumes and gadgets. Similarly, Black Friday, an American shopping bonanza that falls on the post-Thanksgiving Friday is used by shopping centers in Poland. Stores advertise seasonal sales on a wide range of products, although this tradition has not bee known in Poland until recently. This marketing ploy has become a symbolic start to the Christmas holiday season.

A familiar figure of Santa Claus is also an effect of marketing. It was invented by a well-known soft drink company and since then it has become a central character of many seasonally-themed movies and stories. Moreover, there are Santa Claus chocolates and Christmas tree ornaments. Parents tell children to be good, because Santa is watching and brings presents only to well-behaved kids. In Poland during the holiday season, people shop at Christmas markets, more and more often decorate fake Christmas trees, and replace traditional Christmas carols with seasonal pop songs.

In February, Valentine’s Day, which was absorbed by the Polish culture in the 1990s, fills the holiday gap between Christmas and Easter, mirroring the American tradition.

They way kids are raised today will influence future traditions. Similar processes have been taking place for hundreds of years. Customs, traditions and cultures influence each other and with time, new elements become assimilated in local cultures.

Cross-Cultural Influences and Holiday Traditions

Permeation of culturally distant customs and a uniform way of celebrating holidays across the globe are caused by numerous processes of globalization, behaviors and role models promoted by pop culture as well as marketing strategies used by popular brands.

At the same time, people often do not realize that some customs that seem to have been rooted in the local tradition for ages, actually have been assimilated from other cultures. For example, the German custom of decorating the Christmas tree was adopted in Poland in the late 18th and the early 19th century. On the other hand, the Parade of the Three Wise Men, reminiscent of the Polish custom of putting up a nativity play, is rooted in the Spanish tradition. St. Patrick’s Day, the Irish holiday when people meet in pubs, drink beer and dress in green, has been gaining popularity in Poland in recent years. Another foreign tradition, the Color Festival, during which people throw colorful powders at each other, comes from the Hindu spring festival, Holi.

Older generations are often reluctant to adopt foreign customs. According to the 2015 survey, conducted by Havas Media, only 2 in 10 Poles celebrate Halloween. However, parents do not forbid their children to participate in this new custom and they accompany the kids in trick or treating. This mechanism shows how new traditions and customs may take root in a society. They way kids are raised today will influence future traditions. Similar processes have been taking place for hundreds of years. Customs, traditions and cultures influence each other and with time, new elements become assimilated in local cultures.

Holidays - Time for Family and Friends

Does it mean that you have to celebrate holidays that do not mean anything to you? Not necessarily. It is good to take the new customs and traditions with a pinch of salt, find out where they come from, what is their meaning and how they relate to your individual needs or sensibilities. Moreover, ask whether a holiday has been spontaneously adopted to your culture or whether it has been created by marketers.

Finally, holidays are special, because they are a good occasion to spend time with family and friends. If the new customs provide an opportunity to do so, perhaps they are not so bad.


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About the author

Doctor Karol Jachymek – culture expert and lecturer at School of Ideas, a new undergraduate program focused on innovation, at SWPS University. His research interests include cultural and social history, film as a reflection of history, the themes of human body, gender and sexuality in film, and Polish cinema (especially of the Polish People’s Republic era, 1945-1989). He also researchers new perspectives in historical studies, the use of audio-visual materials as records of history, influence of film on individual and collective memory, and pop culture phenomena.