First-year student Barbara “Basia” Ogiba knows there’s no place like home for the holidays.

The Saint Mary’s University Concert Band helped bring a taste of Ogiba’s native Poland to Winona through its winter concert.

The band performed a medley of Polish Christmas pieces—tunes Ogiba knew by heart—during its annual holiday concert on Dec. 11.

The native of Poznan, Poland—and long-time flute player—excitedly shared her Christmas customs with other members of the band.

For starters, in Poland, these Polish holiday tunes wouldn’t be making radio play lists this early in the season.

“In Poland, we can play and sing Christmas music only after Christmas Eve,” she said. “It’s against the rules, and we play them until the end of January, only during the season. And here you sing about presents and snow. Our Christmas songs are all very Christian, all about Jesus. We can hear them on the radio, but mostly in churches and in our homes. They are more spiritual.”

While Americans focus on Dec. 25, Ogiba explains that in Poland the most important day is Dec. 24, Christmas Eve, when a veritable feast is held each year.

“We prepare 12 dishes, each of which have meaning to us: soups, cakes, cookies, fish, pierogi with sauerkraut and mushrooms. Some of it we eat because it is winter, and it makes people feel warm. Also, many dishes are made from inexpensive ingredients, proof of our heritage because there wasn’t much money during the second world war. Then we exchange gifts and go to church at Midnight. On Christmas, we dress really fancy because this day is so special.”

Eager to talk about her heritage, Ogiba speaks quickly, describing each of the 12 delicacies in succulent detail, and none of these dishes—she assures—are like anything you would find in the U.S.

“People here think they make pierogi, but no,” she said with a laugh.

An international business major at Saint Mary’s, Ogiba hopes to one day pair a knowledge of business with her love of baking. Her dream is to open a small café that would serve coffee and baked goods.

Ogiba is attending Saint Mary’s as a Wasie Gostomski Scholar. (The Wasie Foundation, the Gostomski Family Foundation, and Saint Mary’s University join together to offer full scholarships each year to qualified students of 100 percent Polish ancestry.) She is grateful for the opportunity to travel back home for Christmas.

“I’m very close to my four siblings and parents,” she said. “I miss them all. The gingerbreads are already made. They sent me pictures.”

As a high school foreign exchange student, Ogiba stayed in the U.S. last year for Christmas. “It was a great experience, and gave me a chance to explore the American Christmas, but I missed home,” she said.

Ogiba is as eager to hear about other countries’ cultures as she is to share her Polish traditions.

“We went through many hard times,” she said. “We struggled, but Poland is a beautiful country, and I love my city. It’s also important to know about other cultures. I have enjoyed hearing about students in China and their traditions. Many students’ ancestors came from Poland, Germany, and Sweden. I think it’s important to be proud of who you are and know about your history and heritage.”

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