10 Terrific Polish Gift Recommendations for Christmas 2019
#lifestyle & opinion
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for Christmas 2019, 'Walentyna' / 'Oskar' cup, Wzorowe Towarzystwo, photo: producer's promo materials, center, po-prostu-ceramika-wzorowe-towarzystwo.jpg
Once again, Culture.pl’s finest have come together to concoct a carefully thought-out list of Christmas gift propositions. As usual, our recommendations are intended to be varied and highlight what’s best in recent Polish culture. This year’s list includes, among other things, a book by Olga Tokarczuk – who, in October, was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature – and the upcoming video game ‘Cyberpunk 2077’ from CD Projekt Red, bound to be an international smash hit.
For the whole family
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Cover from the book 'Quarks, Elephants & Pierogi: Poland in 100 Words'; text: Mikołaj Gliński, Matthew Davies, Adam Żuławski; illustration and book design: Magdalena Burdzyńska; published by the Adam Mickiewicz Institute, 2018; photo: Grażyna Makara / culture.pl
Christmas is a time that many of us choose to spend with our families, so it seems fitting to start off with a highly family-friendly recommendation: Culture.pl’s very own publication, Quarks, Elephants & Pierogi: Poland in 100 Words. The book, designed and richly illustrated by Magdalena Burdzyńska, provides loads of curious information about the history and culture of Poland by taking a detailed look at 100 words from the Polish language, like jabłko (apple) or miłość (love).
Quarks, Elephants & Pierogi: Poland in 100 Words – Mikołaj Gliński, Matthew Davies & Adam Żuławski
The book is a tour de force of investigation into what makes Poland Polish, traversing 100 words specifically picked out to demonstrate the essence of the country, alongside the elasticity of its language and multi-cultural background.
From Juliette Bretan’s Culture.pl article about ‘Quarks, Elephants & Pierogi’
Quarks, Elephants & Pierogi, co-created by Sylwia Jabłońska, Mikołaj Gliński, Matthew Davies and Adam Żuławski, was published last year. In May of this year, it was awarded Most Beautiful Book of 2018 in the Guides category by Polskie Towarzystwo Wydawców Książek, a leading book publishing association in Poland.
If you’re wondering where you may purchase Culture.pl’s book, this article has it covered: Where to Buy the Book 'Quarks, Elephants & Pierogi: Poland in 100 Words.
This year saw Poland’s eminent novelist Olga Tokarczuk win the Nobel Prize in Literature, so next on our list is one of her books. The novel Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead, first published in Poland in 2009 and last year in the UK in Antonia Lloyd-Jones’s translation, will guarantee a great encounter with the writer’s sensibility:
The novel is almost impossible to categorise. It is, in effect, a murder mystery: in the bleak Polish midwinter, men in an isolated village are being murdered, and it is left to Janina Duszejko, a kind of eastern European Miss Marple, to identify the murderer. But a mere whodunit would hardly satisfy a novelist who said ‘just writing a book to know who is the killer is wasting paper and time’, and so it is also a primer on the politics of vegetarianism, a dark feminist comedy, an existentialist fable and a paean to William Blake.
(Quote from ‘Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead by Olga Tokarczuk – the entire cosmic catastrophe’ by Sarah Perry in ‘The Guardian’, 29 Sep 2019)
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The highly original, eco-themed plot follows Duszejko as she comes to believe that the murders in the village are actually committed by animals taking revenge on huntsmen. In 2017, the well-received novel was adapted for the screen by Poland’s award-winning director Agnieszka Holland, as The Spoor.
If you’d like to purchase Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead, you can find it on Amazon.
Also eco-themed is our recommendation in the self-care category, with vegan soaps from the small, family-owned cosmetics manufactory Cztery Szpaki (Four Starlings). Not only are these soaps devoid of any animal products, they’re also chemical-free.
For instance, Cztery Szpaki’s delightful orange and rosemary bar soap is made entirely from the following ingredients: coconut oil, olive oil, shea butter, linseed oil, orange essential oil and rosemary oil. According to the producers, such a mix is antibacterial, anti-allergy and relaxes (and of course also cleanses) the skin. Not to mention that it simply smells amazing.
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Other soaps from Cztery Szpaki include peeling pumpkin, detoxifying coal or lavender with Himalayan salt. It’s worth noting that all of the manufactory’s bar soaps are hand-made. Cztery Szpaki also produces a whole range of other all-natural, vegan products like deodorants or hair serums.
Right from the start, we were happy to know that you can make cosmetics without using unnecessary chemicals, fixatives, parabens or strange colourants. We adhere to the rule that in our products, we don’t use any chemicals. We make healthy stuff and are happy to be able to share it with you.
From the Cztery Szpaki website, www.4szpaki.pl, trans. MK
You can order Cztery Szpaki’s products directly from their website.
Some of the ingredients for Cztery Szpaki’s soaps, like coconut or olive oil, can easily be found in culinary recipes… which brings us to our next item, the delicious culinary delicacy which is honey.
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Poland has an ages-long tradition of beekeeping, as evidenced, for instance, by this quote from Żywot Człowieka Poczciwego (‘Life of an Honest Man’) – a 1568 paraenetic writing by Mikołaj Rej, one of the pioneers of the Polish literary language. The passage comes from a section dealing with the various tasks one ought to carry out during spring:
If you also happen to have bees, it’s time to take care of them, give some honey to the sick ones and don’t allow for any weeds or unnecessary grime among them.
Honey is, of course, very tasty. But it is also known for its antibacterial properties and ability to neutralise toxins from pollution or to help cure colds. If you’d like to give some honey as a Christmas gift, try one of the many sets of different Polish honeys out there.
For example, the family firm Łysoń, which has a website in English, and delivers its products to foreign countries, offers a delightful little collection called ‘Set of Mini-Honeys’ which includes lime, rapeseed, honeydew and multi-flower varieties.
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The 'Oskar' collection, named after Oskar Kolberg, photo: producer's promo materials
Last year, in the design section, we recommended the stylish Miodownik honey dipper, which would naturally go great with a selection of Polish honeys. This year’s design pick is also applicable to food – culinary ceramics.
The Po Prostu collection of cups, bowls and dishes by the porcelain manufacturer Wzorowe Towarzystwo lets you choose from a number of beautiful objects. They all offer classic, practical forms (‘po prostu’ translates as ‘simply’) and are decorated with original patterns that subtly reference the folk-themed decorations of old-school Polish ceramics, e.g. from the Włocławek faience factory.
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Interestingly, the items in the Po Prostu collection are named after people important to the designers. The name ‘Oskar’ is a tribute to the famous Polish ethnographer and folklorist Oskar Kolberg, whereas ‘Walentyna’ recalls Valentina Tereshkova, the first woman to fly to outer space (and the only one to have done it as a solo mission). Wzorowe Towarzystwo’s Magdalena Falkiewicz spoke of these names in the September & October 2018 issue of What’s Up magazine:
We wanted to reference the tradition of giving human names to types of porcelain. Further names and figures are still to come, and they may prove to be even more surprising than Oskar and Walentyna. Somewhat incidentally, we came up with a small, educational element.
You can purchase Po Prostu collection ceramics from the Wzorowe Towarzystwo website.
Next up, we have another collection of niftily designed objects: hand-crafted, wooden earrings from Mojamoskwa. These charming pieces of jewellery bring together the warm feeling of wood and what appears to be an aesthetic inspired by the 1980s.
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The manufacturing process of Mojamoskwa’s earrings ensures that no two pairs are exactly alike. First, appropriately shaped parts are cut out from a fine piece of wood and glued together. Later, they’re painted in fabulous patterns and finally given a detailed finish – all of which is done by hand.
The founder and sole employee of Mojamoskwa (who doesn’t disclose her name at her website) says her passion for woodworking is linked to her father being a carpenter. She also informs us which of her earrings are most popular with clients:
In the case of jewellery, there are two kinds of hits. First, we have the big, bold, highly unusual, colourful earrings – I’ve made 3 kinds of those and have produced a few copies for clients who were amazed by them. The second group are the small, also colourful but inconspicuous studs. […] These sell the most because they go well with all kinds of looks.
From pakamera.pl/mojamoskwa-0_s12351062.htm, trans. MK
You can browse and order Mojamoskwa’s products (which apart from earrings include other objects, such as necklaces) on Pakamera.
The name Mojamoskwa translates as ‘my Moscow’ – but the brand’s founder says that that doesn’t really mean much to her. She just chose the name because it seemed to highlight the fun she experiences while making jewellery. On the other hand, the next item on our list, the 2017 documentary Over the Limit by Marta Prus, has very clear ties to the Russian capital, as the film’s hero was born in Moscow.
Over the Limit follows Russia’s rhythmic gymnast Margarita Mamun as she prepares for the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. Over the course of a full year, the sportswoman is shown in various situations: partaking in a gymnastics competition, spending time with her parents, talking to her boyfriend on the phone… But also, and this is maybe the crux of this absolutely amazing story, the picture shows Mamun’s relentless training sessions under the watchful eye of her hot-tempered coach.
The insanely demanding training routine is portrayed with such vividness that Over the Limit earned comparisons to such acclaimed feature films (also focusing on achieving greatness in a particular field) like Black Swan or Whiplash. Eventually, after many hardships, Mamun wins the Olympic gold.
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In his Culture.pl article about Over the Limit, Bartosz Staszczyszyn writes:
Marta Prus believes in her protagonist. Instead of reaching for formal tricks and experimenting with a documentary narrative, she simply follows Rita’s emotions. In a formidable manner, she traces the toxic but also very ambiguous relationship between the sportswoman and her coaches – her personal trainer and manager, Irina Viner.
Over the Limit premiered on DVD this year. You can purchase the film on Amazon.
If you yourself would like to feel like a character in a movie, playing a video game might let you do that. Especially since the graphics in some of the recent productions are so realistic, they’re almost cinematic. And if you’re interested in acting the part of the protagonist in a wild sci-fi adventure, Culture.pl knows just the thing for you – Cyberpunk 2077.
This first-person perspective role playing game is a production by CD Projekt Red, the creators of the immensely successful Witcher series. Here’s how Cyberpunk 2077 is described by its developers:
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Cyberpunk 2077 is an open-world, action-adventure story set in Night City, a megalopolis obsessed with power, glamour and body modification. You play as V, a mercenary outlaw going after a one-of-a-kind implant that is the key to immortality. You can customize your character’s cyberware, skillset and playstyle, and explore a vast city where the choices you make shape the story and the world around you.
Set in the not-so-distant future (the year 2077), the game plays with an abundance of speculative fiction tropes, like the rise of robotics or governance by corporations. Also, it includes motion-capture acting from the Hollywood superstar Keanu Reaves, who gave his likeness to one of the main characters.
Cyberpunk 2077 is still being developed but you can already pre-order it. The release date is set for 16th April 2020.
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Cover of the album 'Phantoms', photo: promo materials
Our next recommendation also includes fantastic characters – only this time, rather than from the future, they’re from the realm of the supernatural. The cantata Phantoms, written by Poland’s eminent composer Stanisław Moniuszko in ca. 1859, revolves around the ancient Slavic ritual of Dziady or Forefathers’ Eve, which focused on contacting the spirits of the dead.
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Phantoms is based on the 1823 dramatic verse Forefathers’ Eve, Part II by one of Poland’s most important writers of the Romantic Era, Adam Mickiewicz. The cantata retells the plot of Mickiewicz’s work, which shows a Forefathers’ Eve ceremony taking place at a chapel at night. The ritual is attended by local villagers and a ceremony leader who addresses the troubled spirits that haunt the church.
This year, a 2018 recording of Phantoms made by the NFM choir and Wrocław Baroque Orchestra conducted by Andrzej Kosendiak won the prestigious Fryderyk award for Best Choir, Oratorial and Operatic Album. Including amazing performances from soloists like Jarosław Bręk and Aleksandra Kubas-Kruk, this release is definitely a very interesting proposition for classical music lovers. Here’s part of the album’s description from the website of its publisher, the National Forum of Music (NFM).
Today, Stanisław Moniuszko is first and foremost remembered as ‘the father of Polish opera’ […]. But he was also a creator of cantatas in which, like no other Polish composer, he merged the dramatic qualities of an opera with the lyricism and reflective mood of a song. His cantatas are large-scale, multi-part, vocal and instrumental pieces that exhibit certain traits of both the first and latter genre.
From www.nfm.wroclaw.pl, trans. MK
NFM’s Phantoms is also available on Amazon.
Since it’s time to end our recommendations list, why not do it with something that can help keep track of time? The last item proposed here is an amazing wall calendar for the year 2020 by the illustration artist Paweł Jońca. According to his bio at Culture.pl, he is:
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[…] one of the most recognised illustrators in Poland. His works may be found all across the world, hanging on walls from San Francisco to Sydney. Most of them take the form of printed illustrations, and copies of these pieces may be bought from various websites.
Apart from making standalone artworks, Jońca also makes press and book illustrations, e.g. for the Polish editions of Chuck Palahniuk’s novels.
His style is very to-the-point; he succinctly presents the core of the idea, which he does with humour and distance. He loves colours and uses them with panache.
From www.niezlasztuka.net/portfolio/pawel-pejot-jonca, trans. MK
As Jońca himself puts it, his 2020 calendar includes his ‘best art works.’ Each month is illustrated by one of them – for example, July is accompanied by Be Happy, which shows a singing cyclist juxtaposed with a worried car passenger. Presumably, if received on Christmas, Jońca’s calendar can serve to recall the happiness of the holidays throughout the entire upcoming year.
christmas eve in poland
You can order Jońca’s 2020 calendar on Etsy.
Written by Marek Kępa, Nov 2019