11 Cultural Polish Christmas Presents for 2018
default, christmas_market_krakow_getty_images.jpg, Christmas market at the Main Square in Kraków, photo by Omar Marques/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images, center
#lifestyle & opinion
The holidays are time of celebrating traditions. In keeping with that, observing our annual tradition, Culture.pl brings you a selection of ideas for cultural Christmas gifts from Poland. The greatest minds at our editorial team came together to craft a diverse yet balanced list that should be of help to those of you still looking for presents for friends & family!
To start off this year’s Christmas gift recommendations we have a very Christmassy item indeed! The brand new album by one of Poland’s top contemporary jazz singers Aga Zaryan What Xmas Means To Me.
A Foreigner's Guide to Polish Jazz
On the album you’ll find beautiful, jazzy renditions of familiar seasonal tunes like Jingle Bells or Santa Claus is Coming to Town but also equally appealing versions of some less well-known songs such as Stevie Wonder’s Someday at Christmas. Among the latter is Nim Przyjdzie Wiosna (Before Spring Comes) originally sung by Poland’s iconic singer Czesław Niemen with lyrics by noted author Jarosław Iwaszkiewicz. It’s the sole number sung in Polish on this otherwise English-language release.
Freddy Cole, brother of the celebrated Nat King Cole, lends his voice to this Christmas record, adding to the already masterful level of the tracks cut by the European Jazz Sextet and Prague Filmharmonic Orchestra. It goes without saying that Aga Zaryan’s vocals sound simply amazing.
Aga Zaryan conjured an album that definitely has all it takes to become a 21st-century jazz classic.
Source: RMF Classic radio website
Since What Xmas Means To Me premiered just last month we’ll still have to hold off a bit before declaring it a ‘classic’. There’s no doubt however that that status is enjoyed by the acclaimed painter and graphic artist Zofia Stryjeńska.
Stryjeńska has an extraordinary life and was one of the most important artists of interwar Poland. A new album about her life and work was tastefully published this year by Bosz and titled simply Zofia Stryjeńska.
The album includes a great many photos of her diverse, often folklore-inspired works which ranged from drawings and paintings, to set and toy designs. The rich imagery is accompanied by highly informative and bilingual (Polish & English) texts by Światosław Lenartowicz, an expert on interwar art and Stryjeńska in particular.
A Foreigner's Guide to Polish Folk Art
Given that the artist was among the most vivid characters of her day (she posed for a man so she could study at the Academy of Fine Arts in Munich!) the book is not only worth browsing through but also makes for a very interesting read.
Another image-heavy publication from this year that’s worth recommending is Destination, a photography album by Patryk Karbowski. The beautifully-printed hardcover contains 35 images by the noted photographer, who specialises in documentary and reportage pictures. Through them he tells the story of Warsaw citizens, who were born in smaller towns and moved to live in the capital, a social group that’s rather large.
A Sensitive Generation: Intimacy In Modern Polish Photography
Here’s what Culture.pl’s expert on photography Michał Dąbrowski has to say about Destination:
The book contains numerous scenes from the lives that newcomers adopt after moving to the big city. He has photographed his subjects studying, at work, out walking with their children, and at home in their small kitchens. Karbowski ruptures the continuity with images of impermanence, i.e. dried-up flowers, a messy bathroom, a mugful of cigarette butts.
The publication is bilingual (Polish & English) and includes an essay by journalist Marta Szarejko, who in 2015, published a book on small-town migrants in Warsaw.
Next up we have another book, only this time the focus is on the text rather than the images. A new English translation of Poland’s most famous epic poem Pan Tadeusz, originally written in 1834 by the revered Romantic author Adam Mickiewicz, was published this year.
Often referred to as a ‘national epic’ due to its importance in Polish culture, the poem portrays gentry life in partitioned Poland on the eve of the Napoleonic armies’ arrival. Published by Archipelago Books and titled Pan Tadeusz: The Last Foray in Lithuania, the new rendition was carefully prepared by award-winning translator Bill Johnston. Here’s how he commented on his work in an interview for WWB Daily:
Tadeusz from Poland: The International Story Behind the Ultimate Polish Name
It’s been brought into English several times before; I don’t usually indulge in re-translations, but in this case the existing versions didn’t seem adequate to me (many scholars agree). (…) I’m using rhyme or half-rhyme throughout; but an equal challenge is to maintain the measuredness of Mickiewicz’s language without striving for pseudo-Romantic effects and antiquated phrasing (…). I’m striving for a dignified but lively and thoroughly twenty-first century rendering of the poem. I love this translation task.
Now, let’s jump from Pan Tadeusz to Pan Tu Nie Stał. Pan Tu Nie Stał (or PTNS for short) is a Polish clothing brand, which draws its inspiration from Poland of the 1950s, ‘60s and ‘70s. By playing with nostalgia, they managed to change old, often obscure, words, items and designs into clothes and accessories that every contemporary consumer wants. The name of the brand itself, which translates as ‘Sir, you weren’t standing here!’, alludes the long lines that used to form in front of stores in Poland under the communist regime.
Vintage Polish Fashion Divas of the 1950s and 60s
Pan Tu Nie Stał is known for its use of cheeky slogans, amusing words and simple designs inspired by everyday objects, the wealth of Polish language and the Polish alphabet. This year, the brand teamed up with Muzeum Sztuki in Łódź, the second oldest museum of modern art in the world, to create the PROJEKT collection. It draws on avant-garde art and the work of 20th- and 21st-century artists such as Bruno Jasieński, Kazimierz Malewicz, Karol Hiller and Jadwiga Sawicka from the museum’s collection.
Among the items in this intriguing collection you’ll find a wonderfully warm women’s oversize sweater, designed by Kinga Bagnowska, with a pattern by Bartek Bojarczuk, t-shirts referencing the works of painter and photographer Jadwiga Sawicka, as well as elegant yet simple jewellery.
Whereas the previous recommendation was inspired by art this one is inspired by nature. Winter, with its short days and freezing cold weather has us drinking a lot of tea. And what is better than tea with a drop of honey?
A Foreigner's Guide to Polish Design
The Miodownik honey dipper from the Polish design brand Zaczyn tastefully references the shape of a honeycomb. Thanks to the dipper’s hexagonal grid its suitable both for liquid honey, minimalising unwanted dripping, as well as crystalised honey, as it allows for easy scooping.
Manufactured at Hefra, one of Poland’s oldest silverware factories, the Miodownik is coated with silver giving it not only a distinguished look but also germicidal properties.
Here’s another recommendation from a Polish design brand: Brutal Britain, the newest publication by the Polish-Spanish design duo Zupagrafika is a book devoted to brutalist architecture in the UK.
The 48-page hardcover includes plenty of information about eight noted post-war structures like the Cables Wynd House in Edinburgh or the Birmingham Central Library, which no longer exists.
New Old Buildings: Warsaw's Controversial Contemporary Reconstructions
An added bonus: the book includes cut-out paper models that let you build your own mini-versions of each building using nothing more than glue. Given that Zupagrafika is a studio with a ‘special affinity’ for ‘post-war modernist architecture and paper’ and has come out with similar publications (devoted to brutalist architecture in Paris and Eastern Europe) for years, you can be sure that the detail of the models, as well as the information included, are top notch.
A foreword by architecture historian Barnabas Calder provides additional context to this book, which was published just two months ago.
What about something for the little ones? We also recommend some cut-out but of cute and colourful animals.
The Animals set from the paper and cardboard toy manufacturer Ringo includes 20 different cardboard animals which you can hand-assemble, without the use of any tools or glue. Among the delightful menagerie you’ll find such beasts as a zebra, crocodile and seal. Apart from the delightfully simple design, Animals has also another big advantage which Ringo highlights on its website: the toys are all made of 100% recyclable materials. But they’re not only safe for the environment, since they’re made of cardboard they’re also safe for even the youngest users. An added bonus: the required assembly has been praised as facilitative to the development of manual skills and creativity!
Wooden Horses & Toy Soldiers: Polish Toys Through the Ages
Yope is another Polish brand that stresses its use of environmentally-friendly components. They make a variety of soaps, hand lotions and body creams, as well as cleaning agents. Artificial aromas, foaming substances and the likes are avoided by Yope thanks to which their soaps are not only more ecological but also more gentle on the skin.
A Foxtrot For Shampoo: Poland's Interwar Advertisement Songs
Among their broad selection of products you may find such curious blends like Tea & Peppermint – with its high vitamin K content it’s meant to be beneficial to your blood vessels – or Ginger & Sandalwood which stimulates regeneration. Their nifty modern packaging featuring cute illustrations of animals is another highlight. In a conversation with INNPoland Paweł Kosowicz, co-founder of Yope Soap, says:
We were under the impression that the store shelves are boring and monotonous, that everything in them looks alike, the same big brands everywhere. And we felt that people are beginning to look for something new, something that’s really different than the rest. We saw that there’s room for an idea like ours.
What also separates Yope from many other producers is that they offer refills for their products at their shop, meaning you don’t have to throw away the container every time you empty it. Smart thinking!
After watching the horror-musical film Lure by Agnieszka Smoczyńska, you might end up watching your back when washing your hands at the bathroom sink. After all, the beautiful yet deadly protagonists of Lure, two mermaid-singers in 1980s Poland, appear in the bathroom in some of the movie’s most memorable scenes. Yet despite, or maybe precisely because of its eeriness, the 2015 movie set in a fantastical Poland under the communist regime was a great success worldwide.
The Lure directed by Agnieszka Smoczyńska - Image Gallery
The New York Times noted that in the film:
We are not exactly in the present and not precisely in the past, but in a dreamy cinematic space where distinctions of genre and tone are pleasantly (and sometimes shockingly) blurred.
Apart from its original plot (mermaids working as singers at a nightclub) and ambience the film also features some skilful acting from young Polish actresses Marta Mazurek and Michalina Olszańska as the protagonists and Jakub Gierszał as a bass player. The modern-sounding and melodic soundtrack is the work of sisters Barbara and Zuzanna Wrońska.
The movie was recently released in a special, director-approved edition by the prestigious Criterion Collection, which releases important classic and contemporary films for film aficionados. With its remastered cinematography and new English subtitles it is a must for movie-lovers!
Bonus: A blast from the past
Last but not least we have a somewhat retro present idea for you.
In Poland, back in the day, it was customary to decorate the Christmas tree with foods: apples, nuts, and gingerbread cookies. According to the eminent ethnographer Zygmunt Gloger, this custom came to Poland from Germany. In his famous Old-Polish Encyclopaedia from the early 20th century we find:
Polish Christmas Eve Traditions
In the so-called ‘Prussian times’, that is in the years 1795-1806, Varsovians adopted the German custom of decorating a pine or fir tree for children at Christmas, using nuts, candy, apples, plenty of candles and coloured threads. Before that in Poland you’d only hang ‘starlets’ made from Christmas wafers of various colours from the ceiling, commemorating the star symbolising the birth of the Saviour.
So, if you’d like to give a present that’s traditional, ecological, modest, healthy and symbolic (the custom of hanging apples is said to echo the myth of the Garden of Eden) try going for a nice little apple – or maybe even a few – that you can hang on the tree. Some believe that eating them later will secure you good looks and good health straight from paradise!
Looking for more gift ideas?
pan tu nie stał
Author: Marek Kępa, December 2018