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    Our Advent Calendar 2022: Day 20: Pasterka, so the midnight Mass 

    Pasterka or midnight mass is a solemn service celebrated at midnight. During Pasterka, all church bells in Poland ring loudly and solemn church songs and carols are sung, especially “God is born”, announcing the beginning of the day and the feast of Christmas.

    The night service in honour of the infant Jesus was introduced into the liturgy of the universal Church in the 6th century. Initially, the Midnight Mass was held only in Jerusalem and Bethlehem – a custom that is still celebrated today. The Midnight Mass is celebrated in the Grotto of the Nativity, known as the Milk Grotto, then the service moves to the basilica’s basement in Bethlehem. On the floor of the Basilica, right next to the altar, sits a silver star. This star marks the sacred place where Jesus Christ was to be born. It is a place held in great reverence, visited by all pilgrims from all over the Christian world visiting the Holy Land and Bethlehem.

    In Poland, Pasterka began to be celebrated in the Middle Ages. Crowds of the faithful always attended this service, and the custom has been preserved to the present day. The tradition of participating in the midnight mass is alive and cultivated in villages and large cities, and all churches are invariably full of praying people. However, while the tradition of the Mass itself has been preserved, the various ceremonies taking place on this occasion are increasingly rare. In the past, carriage and wagon races were held on the way to church. This was because it was believed that the farmer who arrived at church first would enjoy the best harvest. 

    A similar race, also for a successful harvest, was organised on the way back, after the service was over. Young people indulged in numerous pranks during the shepherdess service. For example, Krakow’s students poured ink into the stoup before the Midnight Mass and sewed the hem of the skirts of women praying in the church in secret, so that when they got up from their knees they fell to the floor, dragging their female neighbours from the pew behind them. These customs heralded the approaching carnival.

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