In the Polish Highlands, the heartwarming tradition of “pastuszkowanie” brings forth the joy of Christmas through the enchanting voices of Little Shepherds—children or young men wielding shepherd’s crooks to sing carols and spread the Good News of Jesus Christ’s birth.
Preparing for the Celebration
Days before Christmas, preparations for pastuszkowanie commenced. Young participants, often teenage boys, dedicated time to learn carols, wishes, and dialogues. The festive period traditionally kicked off on Boxing Day, although some communities initiated caroling on Christmas Eve, showcasing local variations across Cieszyn Silesia, Moravia, Slovakia, and the Carpathians.
The Attire and Props
Clad in white shirts, sheepskin coats, and adorned with cardboard ribbons and stars, the Little Shepherds sported tall, colorful cardboard crowns and carried long sticks. Some brandished Christmas cribs, known as Betlejka, made of cardboard or wooden boxes with straw roofs, illuminated by candles.
Spreading Joy and Good Tidings
Through song, dialogues, and gestures, the Little Shepherds narrated the story of Jesus’ birth. As a token of appreciation, they received gifts such as sweets, nuts, dried fruits, cakes, and money from generous farmers for sharing the joyous news.
A Resurgence of Tradition
While the tradition faded over time, a renaissance has been observed in the last 25 years. Today, you can still find Little Shepherds in Cieszyn Silesia, including Koniaków, Jaworzynka, and Istebna, keeping the spirit of pastuszkowanie alive.