Christmas post: Mikołaj v. Viejo Pascuero


In order to have fun during this holiday season, I made myself a challenge. What about comparing and making a short list of how Christmas is lived in Poland and in Chile, with vocabulary, food, traditions and such? Hopefully, at the end of the post, I’ll realize where it’s better to spend Christmas.

I’ll make a list with some common questions about the celebrations, so you can understand the similarities and differences better.

  1. Who brings presents? If you think that either Santa Claus or Father Christmas give presents in Chile and Poland, well they don’t. In Chile, not even Papá Noel. The gift giver in Chile is… VIEJO PASCUERO (lit. Old man from Christmas). Now you’ll be highly confused on why the word Pascua is used when you usually associate with Easter. Well, there’s a reason to it. Most religious holidays in the Catholic Church are called Pascuas (from Hebrew Pesah). So, there is Pascua de Resurrección (Easter itself) and Pascua de Navidad (Christmas). Anyways, Viejo Pascuero resembles a lot the depiction of Santa Claus from Coca-Cola. However, many people have tried to adapt him to the actual climate conditions of Chile in December: hot and sunny weather. My friend Natalia has shown on her blog her actual adaptation and there have been songs written about how Christmas is lived here. He visits everyone in Chile at Midnight during Christmas Eve.
    Now, in Poland, things gets more confusing. There is Saint Nicholas (Św. Mikołaj) who visits children during his name day and leaves them candy (Dec 6th) and sports a traditional priest robe and also during Christmas (though current depictions show him closer to the Coca-Cola Santa Claus), buuuut… your family might call him Gwiazdor (Star carrier) or Aniołek (little angel) who actually brings presents after the Christmas Eve dinner.
    Just because Poles get a small sample of what coming next, Poland 1 – Chile 0.
  2. When do they celebrate the most? How do they celebrate it? Okay, December is always a party-filled month, but what these two countries have in common is that they don’t wait for Christmas day itself. Christmas Eve is the most special day here. Both in Poland and Chile, people work half-day and students are already on holiday, so it is a day in which people usually stay at home and get ready for it. Chileans usually go to Misa del Gallo (Christmas Eve Mass) which is held more or less at 7-8pm, when the sun is about to set (woo hoo Christmas in summer!) and after, more or less at 9-10pm, Cena de Nochebuena (Christmas Eve dinner) starts. It’s more or less a fancy dinner in which the most popular dishes are fish preparation, Roasted turkey or chicken and… PAPAS DUQUESAS, small fried balls of mashed potatoes (most people buy them frozen and heat them in an oven though). After that, dessert comes: usually fresh fruit (watermelons, peaches), ice cream or frozen cake and pan de pascua (some kind of Chilean Christstollen, but with no marzipan). For digestif, a cola de mono (monkey tail: milk, coffee, cloves, cinnamon and aguardiente liquor) is a popular drink that is served with ice cubes.
    Poles also have their Christmas Eve dinner, called Wigilia. It is way earlier than Chilean dinner, since it starts when the first star is seen in the sky (ca. 3-4pm). Before that, most Poles fast and this dinner has no meat dishes. It consists of 12 dishes, in which you can find PIEROGI RUSKIE (Ruthenian dumplings -one of my favourite Polish dishes ever-), BARSZCZ (beetroot soup), cold salads, KARP (carp fish), some sweets like PIERNIK (gingerbread), MAKOWIEC (poppy-seed cake), among others. Before dinner starts, you must crack an OPŁATEK (Christmas wafer, quite similar to the one given in Church for communion) and… there’s always one spare seat for unexpected visitors, a token of Polish hospitality.
    I will consider this a tie: Polish food and hospitality is great and Chilean Christmas food isn’t bad. I mean, eating watermelons for Christmas! 🙂 . Poland 2 – Chile 1.
  3. Now… When are presents given and exchanged? This is also different. Chileans get their presents at midnight sharp. Children are asked to look for Viejito Pascuero outside and look at the sky… and at 00:01, presents are magically there! That Viejito Pascuero is quite fast and effective (he should run the post here) 😀 . Children often stay awake for a while, playing with their new toys while grownups stay at home, drinking digestif until everyone goes to bed quite late. In Poland, presents are given right after dinner and at midnight, people tend to go the Pasterka (Christmas mass) in Church.
    Since building up excitement and looking at how happy all children can get with that hope is probably the most interesting phenomenon of Christmas… my point goes to Chile. Poland 2 – Chile 2.
  4. What people do next? And on Christmas day? I must say that in Chile, most people go to bed right after the party. In Poland, they tend to watch TV, especially KEVIN SAM W DOMU (Kevin alone at home or Home Alone) and other Christmas movies. Christmas without Kevin’s adventures in Poland isn’t Christmas at all. In Chile, the lowest ratings on TV ever happen either during Christmas Eve or New Years. Everyone is more focused at preparing the dinner and spending time with family. Sometimes, people may watch random episodes of LOS SIMPSON (The Simpsons) either on one of the local channels or pay TV (usually FOX Latin America holds marathons with episodes of The Simpsons for that time). Yes, for any Chilean under 35, The Simpsons are a show they cannot stop watching or quoting.
    Christmas day in both countries is a day of relaxing and meeting with more relatives and eating the famous leftovers: Resztki z Wigilii in Poland or Los restitos in Chile.
    Since there are more similarities than differences here, both countries get a point: Poland 3 – Chile 3.

CONCLUSION: Both countries have equally exciting, fun and interesting Christmas celebrations and traditions. Sure, for most Poles a Christmas in hot weather is something wild and crazy, whereas for Chileans, eating 12 dishes would be too much to handle. The most important thing is that this day is quite special for both countries as it is a family holiday, despite its initial religious significance. Anyways, with this post I wish you all a Happy End of Year Holiday Season.

Wesołych Świąt & Felices Fiestas! Contest Winners

Finally, I’m proud to announce this year’s winners for the contest 😀

I will get in touch with the two winners immediately to send them their presents 😀 As for the rest of you, thank you for your endless support and feedback! I will appreciate them forever.

Are you born a polyglot or can you become one?


First of all, despite my personal objection to the “polyglot” word (due to its perception in mainstream society), I shall use this concept in its strict, original sense and considering the beautiful definition in Spanish (someone well-instructed in many languages).

Okay, after this short disclaimer, I will introduce today’s topic of discussion, which has been a matter of discussion in the language learning community. A question that reminds me a lot of the Chicken or the Egg dilemma: are you born a polyglot or can you become one?

First of all, I am no neurologist, yet I do acknowledge that there are people out there with a predisposition in their minds to learn languages. Just like there are people with talent for sports, maths, the arts, acting, or any kind of field… there are people who simply have it easy with learning languages or expressing themselves comfortably in different cultural settings. There are other people who might have to work really hard in order to understand or do something others can do with not much of an issue. However, here comes the most important challenge and what I personally think is the most important thing to take in consideration about being a polyglot: STIMULATION.

Stimulation in the sense of being inserted, surrounded or in contact with an environment that promotes, fosters and encourages foreign language learning. Of course, there have been many situations in which families have played an important role: having a parent that speaks a different language from the other, being in a country that does not speaks the language you use at home, being encouraged by your family to learn a new language, living in a place with constant contact with foreign language speakers or having the posssibility to study in a foreign language immersion program in school. Also, people who probably lacked those opportunities during their early life and when they grow up, even by networking online or having a better environment in life can give us good surprises and being included easily in this sense of community of language learner (and actually that gives them a big confidence boost).

Personally, despite my schooling in Chile wasn’t quite the most accepting or friendly one towards my interests (especially in foreign language), I must say I felt quite supported by my family during those times. We had the opportunity to live abroad twice and managed to learn English, practically by going to school and watching TV. To be honest, the first 2 months of having my education in English were a nightmare. I never understood anything (because I did know how to ask for permission to go the toilet, but science in English? I never learned that in Chile!). I would come home many times feeling sad or overwhelmed by the system. My parents were there to give me moral support and by the 6th month, I already had friends and never felt alone at school. I could also understand everything and… managed to be student of the month in Physical Education (which was probably the weirdest thing I’ve ever got). Also, being in a setting where there were other students from different countries and who spoke different languages made me interested on them, especially after realizing we have more in common than people think.

Later, when I came back here, the Internet was my big ally for having a friendly, empowering foreign language community: blogs, bulletin boards and then social network sites. All of those places were good for meeting people with similar interests, from different backgrounds, but with a spirit to learn about each other. Yes, getting proper stimulation is an important thing when you are discussing about being polyglots: being able to use your foreign language skills in different contexts, or even simply learning about someone else’s life, customs or interests (even helping that person practice your native language). This process can also be two-sided, as you can also help others, especially in the field of mental health.

In conclusion, you cannot understand one thing without the other. Polyglots can be born (due to reasons we have yet to understand), but they do need to be stimulated in order to achieve even their minimal potential. Otherwise, it’s worthless to have a potential for learning about languages and not use it or even lacking certain awareness about other language speakers (i.e. mores, customs, taboos, et al). Understanding that a being polyglot is a more holistic concept than an isolated one (even the one I tend to like leaves behind certain things) and that you don’t have to be extremely fluent in every language, but there are ones in you can feel at ease, others that, for X or Y reason, you don’t feel comfortable and others that you’ve simply forgot most of them.

What is your opinion about this issue? Do you think your experience in life has shaped your interest for languages? Share it in the comments!

There are about 10 days left to announce the winners of my end of year contest. If you haven’t signed up for it, click here and fill the questions!

Interview with Olga Groszek from Polish Pea

This week I am featuring one of the most interesting interviews so far. Olga is from Poland and I met her this year in Debrecen. She attended Hungarian language classes while I attended my History ones. However, I do like to take any opportunity to practice Polish and since there were many students from Poland, I met her. She runs a personal blog called Polish Pea (in Polish, that is) and I was lucky to be featured some weeks ago as part of her Młodzi ambitni (ambitious -in a positive way- youth) section. She also collaborates on the student-run magazine about Polish-Hungarian relationships called Magyazyn.

Here is my interview with Olga!


Can you tell me a bit about yourself? What is your main occupation?

My name is Olga and I’m 21 years old. I think I’m a little bit weird, because I study… Hungarian Philology. I’ve just finished my second year at the University of Warsaw (the best Polish university, yay!). As you might imagine, I’m truly interested in every single issue connected with Hungary (Hungarian culture, language, literature, geography, theathre…).

I’m also really into art, especially music. I used to sing in a choir (I was a member of a choir for 10 years!), I was playing the keyboard, and I was a member of a flute band that performed only medieval songs (yes, I’m not normal). What’s more… I was an actress/singer/dancer in the amateur theatre in my home town.

Right now, due to my few health problems, I’m very interested in alternative medicine and nutrition. I have been doing yoga for 2,5 years.

I also love reading books, watching films, going to the theatre, writing (but it’s waaay easier to write in Polish), my village and my cats! Plus spending time with my friends.

I almost forgot! I’m also writing a blog: (only in Polish, sorry!).

Ok… It supposed to be an interview about language 😉 So, of course I’m also keen on languages. That’s why I’m learning English (as I’m not a native speaker I don’t think that someday I’ll be able to say: “I DO speak English”, Spanish and Hungarian. And as a proud member of the Polish nation I speak Polish (what a surprise!). My university department is called the Department of Finno-Ugrian Studies, so within the curriculum, I have to choose another Finno-Ugric language, either Finnish or Estonian. Any of them is going to be my 5th language (or maybe 6th one ifs I’ll be crazy enough to choose both of them, who knows?).

How did you become involved with languages? Did anyone motivate you?

I think these days everyone understands that knowing languages is very important. I’m not sure how does it looks like in other countries, but in Poland most young people speak at least two languages (or maybe only among my friends?).

As a kid I used to travel a lot with my parents and my aunt. They showed me a lot of great places, but I wasn’t able to communicate easily. I wanted to be more independent while going abroad and that’s why I was motivated to practise languages. Later I started to travel on my own and I was happy that I’m able to speak some foreign languages.

I’ve never had any problem with English at school. During my primary school I attended some extra English classes. Then I went to the lower secondary school where we were supposed to have some regular classes in English, but… they didn’t work out. At that time I’ve started to learn Spanish and fall in love with this language. I’ve decided that I’ll go to the “philological module” in high school. Once again I wasn’t lucky… it turned out that I couldn’t continue learning Spanish and I have to start from the very first beginning (learing numbers, colours and stuff…). Anyway, at that time I’ve joined a great language course that took me about 8 hours per week + regular classes at school + studying at home. Finally I was able to pass my final exams (the Matura exam which is the exam you take after high school in Poland) in Spanish, English and Polish.

I was pretty sure that I’m going to study something connected with Spanish, but it appeared that my score wasn’t good enough to study what I wanted to (but to be honest I wasn’t sure what I really wanted to study). I had a plan B, a study in which I would have to wait for a year and try to apply once again. It was Hungarian Philology. When I started to learn Hungarian and explore Hungarian culture I’ve understood that it’s something I want to do in my life.
Have your family, loved ones and friends been supportive with your language interests?
My family have always supported me and encouraged to learn languages. But… I have to admit that my grandparents weren’t happy about the fact that I’m studying Hungarian. I love them, but I had to turn a deaf ear to their talking and… I’ve trusted my instinct. And I’ve never regretted it!

How did you start your journey with blogging?

It may sound rude, but I’ve always known that I can write. I’ve been practising it a lot, for example while writing the articles that I publish for Magyazyn (, an online magazine about Hungary created by Hungarian Philology students. Since I knew I could write well, I wanted to improve it. Moreover, my personal blog helps me to express my feelings – it’s like an autopsychotherapy, and of course it helps me to be more organized.

Have you ever faced a hard moment while learning languages? How did you overcome it?

Being honest I think that right now I’m having that kind of moment… Due to my health issues I had to took a gap year at the university. I’ve been watching my friends and I’m a little bit jealous, because they are already growing up so fast. But I love them so much and I’m happy for them! I’m sure that it’ll only make me stronger and I can’t wait to feel good enough to learn more.

What languages are you currently interested in right now? How do you practice them? What are your techniques for that/those language(s)?

Finally a question in which I can express my feelings and say: “I don’t like English!”. I do watch films in English, I do read English books, but I don’t like to learn its grammar. I’m not sure how to explain this, but I just don’t feel like improving this language. I know my English isn’t perfect, but I’m happy that I can express my feelings and it’s enough for me.

What about Spanish? Lately I haven’t had a lot of time to learn it, but I’m planning on dedicating it some more time. During my first university year I’ve attended two Spanish classes per week with the best teacher I’ve ever met in my entire life. I really wanted to continue with them, but it appears that he… passed away. I really miss him and the way he was giving classes. Right now, I just try to watch films and listen to songs in Spanish.

Hungarian is considered to be (one of) the hardest language(s) on Earth. I can confirm it. Above all, it’s not like other languages I’ve ever had contact with before. Everything looks so different. As an example – there is agglutination there! However, I study Hungarian at the University, I watch Hungarian films and I read books in Hungarian. I also have a lot of friends from the Pepper Country with whom I can practise my Hungarian. I travel to Hungary as often as possible. During the summer holidays I spent a month in Debrecen at the Summer University (and I’ve met Krzysiek there!). Last year I spend few weeks hitchhiking through Hungary with my best friend. It was an amazing experience and it was the very first time I was able to hear a normal, street Hungarian.

Are you interested in a certain language that you know, more or less, you wont be able to study?

After learning Hungarian I don’t think there is a language I wouldn’t manage to learn 🙂 Seriously, I’m pretty sure a man can learn any language. It’s just the matter of time and perseverance.

There are a lot of languages I’m interested in. For example: Portuguese, Italian, Indian, Croatian, Swahili, Romanian… But I think that right now I should just focus on practicing languages that I know.

Can you tell me a short, positive and funny anecdote about your language learning history?

I’ve been learing English for 13 years, but it doesn’t mean I don’t make mistakes. During our last year’s trip to Hungary, we were hanging out with our friends in Budapest. One of them had some contacts (it’s so good to have Hungarian friends!) and he took us inside the Parlament building. As he was somehow connected with one of the political movements, he said: “We are going to the *** (*** being  the name of a political party) party! I was pretty excited that we will be able to join some political event. I put on a fancy dress, and I was almost dreaming of drinking champagne with Hungarian politicians. We had visited the Parlament and while we were heading to the exit  I asked: “And what about the party?!”. Of course there was no party, but I’ll never forget that the word party can also concern more serious issues than just drinking alcohol and dancing, like for example political party.

Thank you Olga for your dedication and time spent answering these questions! 😀

Don’t forget you can still participate on my end of year contest 🙂 Fill out the questions here!