Mostly Catholic Poland indulges in Christmas shopping spree

23-12-2005

Poles have indulged in a Christmas shopping spree this year - breaking all previous sales records. But amidst the consumer frenzy there are those who wonder if it hasn't all gone a little too far. In this mostly Catholic country, they ask, is the real meaning of Christmas being lost?

Warsaw broke records for having the tallest Christmas tree in Europe. Its stands in the center of town and is 72 metres tall. The neon extravaganza is decorated with over 2 million lights. Warsaw's retail core has been transformed into a rainbow of festive lights marking the holiday season. A traditional 12 course meal on Wigilia, or Christmas Eve, including fried or baked carp is a must. One western-owned hypermarket bought 1.5 million of this freshwater fish, that's 2000 tons from 42 Polish suppliers to meet demand.

Q: We're at the fish tank here and we're looking at live carp swimming in the tank here. Did you buy your carp?

A: Yes, I bought it already.

Q: How big is it?

A: About 2 kilos. In the Polish kitchen, carp is the traditional fish. So, we must eat a carp for Christmas.

Q: Are you spending more money this year, or less money?

A: Less money.

Q: Why?

A: Because I have less money. I bought computer games for my children. I think it's cheaper.

Everywhere you go, it's spend, spend, spend. Surveys say that the figure this year will rise considerably as retailers expect to draw 8 billion zlotys or 2 billion euros in profits.

47% say that they intend to buy perfume and cosmetics while over 20% declared that they will buy white goods:

'For me a gift - it's a declaration of love, of good thoughts about the person. It must be a pleasure.'

The tradition of just wishing your family and friends good health and happiness is becoming old hat. This shopper says that the funnier the gift the better.

'I think that now the tradition has changed a bit. The better you know somebody the finer gift you can give - something that is different from all other gifts that the person gets.'

But this academic is worried that some Poles may be getting lost in all this commercialism, and they are forgetting the true meaning of Christmas.

'Year by year I see that these Christmas lights are earlier and earlier. I think it's too commercial and people are more and more thinking about doing shopping, about the whole commercial atmosphere, not about what is the real Christmas atmosphere. First of all it's time to remember about Christ who was born two thousand years ago.'

And then there are those who think that there is nothing wrong with Christmas commercialism.

'I don't see anything wrong with festive moods which we see in the city. And I'm actually happy with retailers that they're selling Christmas stuff a couple of months before X-Mas. It gives me time to re-think about Christmas shopping for my family. It gives me this special atmosphere which we didn't have before.'

Though the breaking of the traditional communion wafer right before the Christmas Eve supper is compulsory and very much inn keeping up with Polish tradition sociologist Kazimierz Krzysztofik from Warsaw University thinks that commercialism is overtaking traditions that have been handed down through the ages in Poland.

'Of course Polish society is changing. It's an effect of the late modernization - the very rapid social change. So many lines and cultural lines divide the Polish society. Poles were deprived of consumption for years, for decades. And now they are crowded by consumer goods. So, it's the need of material goods, rather than the need of spirituality.'

Over the past few years the Polish Christmas has taken on much the same glitter as in the West, even if it does come at the expense of traditional values.

23-12-2005