It’s not an exaggeration to say there are hundreds, if not thousands, of Polish Christmas carols.
Collected over the centuries, the oldest known text of a Polish church hymn regarding the birth of Christ dates back to 1424 and was a handwritten translation from the Czech by a man named Szczekany of Prague, and begins with the words Zdrów bądz, królo anielski (Be well, King of Angels). In 1522, five Christmas songs written in Polish appear in a book titled Żywot Pana Jezu Krysta(The life of Jesus Christ) printed by Jan Haller and Hieronim Wietora in Kraków. One of the oldest Polish Christmas carols from the 16th century and still sung today is Aniol pasterzom mowil (The Angel Told the Shepherds). The author is unknown. The most well-known that survived from the 17th century is
W żłobie leży (In a manger). The words are credited to the famous preacher Piotr Skarga (1536-1612).
In the 18th and 19th centuries carols emerged from the pens of some of Poland's greatest writers and literary figures, as well as monks, priests, small town schoolteachers, organists and many unknown writers. Among these unknown writers and authors is the creator of the carol that for many individuals, officially opens the Christmas season and is titled Wśród Nocnej Ciszy (In the Night's Stillness)
It is the carol that opens the midnight Christmas Eve mass, called the Pasterka, the Shepherd’s Mass, in honor of the shepherds called to the stable that night.
“In the night’s stillness, voices unfurl
Wake shepherds, the Lord is being born.
As quickly as you can, hurry to Bethlehem
To greet the Lord.”
Postcard published in Warsaw sometime between 1905-1939. It is titled from the lyrics: Wstańce, pasterze, Bóg się wam rodzi...(Wake shepherds, the Lord is being born). Attributed to artist H. Czechowicz
That this carol, and so many others, have survived over the centuries is credited to numerous individuals but the most notable among them was Reverend Michal Marcin Mioduszewski, professor of canon law at the seminary in Kraków. Reverend Mioduszewski was not just a collector of religious songs that were being sung in his time but actively researched old manuscripts during his life time. As a collector and publisher of religious songs, he compiled the biggest collection of Polish Christmas carols for church services in his Pastoralki and Kolędy (Pastorals and Carols) published in 1843. Wśród Nocnej Ciszy first appeared in an Appendix to this collection when it was published again in 1853.
Face page and carol from 1908 edition of Mioduszewski's Pastoralki and Kolędy.
The carol appears in that edition as the song for the Introit of the Christmas Eve mass as it does in this 1908 edition. The purpose of the Introit (from Latin: introitus, "entrance") is to open the celebration, to turn thoughts toward the mystery of the celebration and accompany the procession, if there was to be one. In some churches in Poland, while this entrance carol was being sung, a statue of the Infant Jesus was brought to the manger erected within the church and placed there as a symbolic reminder that Christ is being born “in the night’s stillness.”
For 168 years(!), the faithful in the churches of Poland and Polonia scattered throughout the world, continue to rise from their seats at the opening notes of "Wśród Nocnej Ciszy" at the midnight mass (or first mass of the evening) to welcome, once again, the birth of Christ. It was given to us by an unknown individual from the 18th century, someone whose name remains in obscurity, who will never receive recognition for the joy it brings to the heart year after year - a true Christmas gift handed down through the centuries.
Here is a very old recording of it from 1929 along with b&w images of Poland celebrating Christmas Eve in those years. www.youtube.com/watch?v=mcBqowFY9NY
Wishing you every joy of this holiday season: peace, love and good health. May the new year bring each of you every blessing, and every hope and dream fulfilled.
One of the biggest moments in my life was being able to sign for my very own library card. When I'm not reading, researching and writing I'm riding my bike, sewing or gardening. I love flea markets, folk art, and traveling to Poland.