The Polish culture facts in this article have been shaped by changing borders, occupation, and eradication of the country, but also by growth, progress, strength and unity.
For the hundred or so years that Poland didn’t exist, the only people that kept it alive were those in exile, or who were forbidden to ‘be’ Polish on former Polish lands.
During communist times, the Polish identity and it’s culture came second to the party.
But the trials and tribulations that the people felt under Soviet oppression went on to further shape Polish culture.
Polish culture is part of European culture.
The culture in Poland is the result of its location, the bridge between east and west, and even a little bit of middle eastern influence.
Here are a handful of Polish cultural facts that will help you understand more about this beautiful country and per people.
- Until the 12th century, all literature written in medieval Poland was done in Latin and was generally anonymous.
- Expression through the written word mostly came in the form of poetry, prayers, mourning and the recording of historical events.
- Between the 14th and 18th centuries, religion helped the growth of Polish literature.
- Elegies, sermons, songs, prayer books and educational texts all helped literature grow.
- Poetry at this time also started to explore parodies, satire and even erotica.
- It’s said that songs and tragedies became the ‘father of the Polish literally language’.
- One cannot talk about Polish art in any way without mentioning Young Poland (Młoda Polska). Young Poland promoted decadence, art nouveau, neo-romanticism, symbolism and impressionism in opposition to Positivism. Simply put, it used ‘art for art’s sake’ to criticise then Polish society that sought to regain independence slowly and without arms.
- The first cinema in Poland was founded in Łódź in 1899. To date, Łódź is still known as the film capital of Poland.
- There are over 20 Polish directors whose movies have been nominated for academy awards.
- Arguably the most recognised Polish filmmaker, Roman Polanski, started his movie career as a Child actor in Kraków.
- Of the approximately 170 Jewish-made movies that came out between 1910 and 1950, 70 of them were made in Poland.
- During World War II, Polish filmmakers and soldiers in the UK created Calling Mr. Smith, a movie widely regarded as the first anti-nazi film.
- Polish films have a reputation for being ‘less commercially available’ (harder to get) than the films of other European nations.
- In the early 20th century, many Polish films were rebranded in German and shown exclusively in Berlin.
- Watching Home Alone on Christmas Eve is one of the most popular modern Polish traditions.
- The white of the Polish flag is said to represent the purity of the country after it was baptised.
- After regaining independence in 1918, seven religions were recognised in Poland. 5 of them being Christian.
- The 1931 Polish Census showed that:
- almost 65% of respondents were Roman Catholic
- approximately 10% being Orthodox, Greek Catholic or Jewish.
- The changing of the borders after World War 2 saw Poland lose approximately 65% of its Orthodox population.
- The Polish Socialist Government only recognised 4 churches.
- The 2011 Polish Census showed that:
- almost 87% of respondents were Roman Catholic
- 1.31% are Orthodox
- Buddhism accounts for 0.04%
- Islam makes up 0.013%
- Judaism accounts for 0.004%
- Soccer (Football) is the most popular sport in Poland.
- Speedway draws in the second-highest crowds in the country, after football.
- In the interwar period, Poland dominated in all forms of equestrian.
- After the women’s national team won the European Championships in 2003 and 2005, Volleyball has been consistently growing in popularity. The men’s team won the same championships in 2014 and 2018.
- The successes of Adam Małysz and Kamil Stoch have helped ski jumping become the most-watched winter sport in Poland
- Robert Kubica was the first, and to date only, Polish Formula 1 driver
- Poland is the third most successful country that’s never hosted the Olympics.
- Olympic medals won by Polish athletes:
- 74 gold
- 90 silver
- 140 bronze
- The definition of ‘Polish food’ is very regionally influenced, owing to the constant changing of the borders.
- Influences of Turkish (tartar), German, French, Italian and Jewish are strong
- Medieval literature of Western guests describes Polish cuisine as “hearty, heavy, spicy and not always tasty”.
- Polish cuisine in the 18th century used more spices than Western neighbours, owing to Lwów being a trading hub.
- Poland is widely known for having first created potato vodka
- Pork is the most widely consumed meat. This is due to the fact that in the 17th century, forests were not cleared to raise cattle (Unlike France or Hungary)
- Due to its limited access to the sea, most fish and crayfish come from lakes and rivers.
- Common vegetables are tubers or those that grow underground.
- Poland is Europe’s largest apple producer
- Tea came to Poland from the British but became a staple during the Russian partition.
- In the 18th century, Poland was one of the few countries in the world where coffee was drunk by both the rich and poor.
- The popularity of fermented milk and other processed dairy products is due to the Turkish/Tartar influence and not the Balkans.
- Contemporary Polish cuisine does away with game meats and replaces them with pork or chicken. Peppers and tomatoes are also more prevalent.
- Musical manuscripts from the 13th century have been found in Start Sącz
- Diomedes Cato, a Polish-born Italian became the lute player of Sigismund III and is regarded as the first composer to blend Southern European music with Polish folk influences.
- In the 17th century, Warsaw became a notable European centre of Opera, with a performance of Galatea being the first Italian opera ever produced outside Italy.
- Władysław IV oversaw the production of at least 10 operas in Warsaw, the most of any European monarch of the period.
- Frédéric Chopin is regarded as the first classical musician to create music that ‘felt’ Polish.
- Polish contemporary music made during the socialist era is known for its heavy use of dodecaphonism (using only 12 notes)
- The Polish Composers’ School, a guild of musicians formed after Stalin’s death, had many notable composers from other Soviet Blok countries, owing to the fact that the Polish regime wasn’t as harsh as other Eastern European dictatorships.
- The Polish folk dances of mazurka, krakowiak and polonaise are triple-time dances. The mazurka and polonaise are from the northeast of the country and are five-beat forms, while the krakowiak, from the south, is duple time.
- Polish aristocracy adopted the polonaise from a slower walking dance called the chodzony
- Podhale music is a traditional form of music from the Carpathians and performed by the goral people. Podhale is also performed in Ukraine, Romania, Slovakia and Moravia.
- Some Podhale music uses a five-bar melodic structure, which is very uncommon in any European music.
- Pol’and Woodstock Festival is one of the biggest music festivals in the world. In 2019, it hosted over 750,000 people.
- Open’er is another large Polish festival, held in the tri-city area.
- Black metal and death metal are very popular in Poland, often being overshadowed by Scandanavia.
Polish history and culture are complicated and by no means straightforward. There’s so much more that can be said about the culture of Poland.
What are some of your favourite cultural facts about Poland?