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National Geographic publishes around the world, so who better to point you to the most unusual, unique, and sometimes irreverent cultural traditions in their countries than the editors of our international editions? Each month a real insider reveals five favorites in this monthly series.

Global Getaways Editor

 Who runs the show: Dariusz "Darek" Raczko, Editor

Name of the game: National Geographic Poland

When it all started: October 1999

Where it all happens: Warsaw, Poland

Who makes it happen: Six editorial staff, one layout editor, one art director, and a cartographic editor

What goes out: Between 180,000 and 200,000 issues a month

Business as usual: "As we work on each issue, we maintain a friendly atmosphere, which other offices in our area envy. Rather than relying on coffee to get us through, we count on each other. And we always try to go home in a good mood."

Best stress reliever: "The seasons play a role in what activities we can enjoy. In summer many of us take advantage of the warmer temperatures by making short trips to the countryside. In the fall and winter we are more likely to stay in the city and enjoy restaurants, the theater, art galleries, and anywhere else that keeps us out of the cold. For me, the end of the week means I get to spend more time with my kids."

Best office perk: "Simply having a cup of tea with my colleagues after work helps me to recharge my batteries. If I have to replace the tea with scotch, then something has gone wrong."

What's great about the Poles: "We have well-developed survival skills. We can adjust to any circumstances and hard times, but we still manage to be very hospitable."

What's great about Poland: "Our country boasts a lot of wooden architecture including many churches and houses in rural areas. That's very rare in Western Europe. Much of Poland's architectural landscape was destroyed following WWII, but the country is now trying to incorporate traditional elements into our modern developments. The old districts of cities such as Warsaw and Krakow have been carefully restored to preserve their history for future generations."


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Poland FlagFive Cultural Bests

Resilience and remembrance are at the heart of Polish tradition, as reflected in the editor's top five choices:

1. Hejnal Mariacki (The Krakow Signal)
"Since the Middle Ages every hour has been marked by the call of a trumpet atop a spire in the Church of St. Mary (Mariacki). This somber melody is familiar not just to those within earshot of Krakow's historic Market Square, but to every Pole thanks to Polish national radio, which broadcasts it live each day at noon. The tradition has been traced back more than 700 years, when it was used to signal the opening and closing of the city gates and to alert the citizens of Krakow of an impending attack. The melody stops abruptly before its last notes, commemorating a trumpeter who was shot with an arrow through the throat as he played."

2. Swiecenie Pokarmow (The Blessing of the Easter Feast)
"In Poland, Easter is as elaborate and meaningful as Christmas. For the blessing of the Easter feast, Poles bring baskets laden with food to special church services. Each item has a symbolic meaning: lamb to represent Christ, salt for purification, horseradish for the sacrifice, and eggs to symbolize life and the resurrection. Painting Easter eggs in either solid colors (pisanki) or intricate patterns (kraszanki) is also an important part of the tradition."

3. Lany Poniedzialek (Easter Wet Monday)
"The tradition of sprinkling water to symbolize baptism and renewal began as an ancient folk ritual in Polish villages. Traditionally, young men threw water at unmarried women, but today many Poles on the street must beware of youths wielding buckets of water and dousing everyone in sight."

4. Christmas Eve Oplatek
"In most Polish homes Christmas Eve supper begins with sharing oplatek, a thin wafer divided among family and friends. Oplatek bears resemblance to the communion wafers used in a Catholic mass but represents a spiritual fellowship that transcends religion. The unleavened bread, sometimes adorned with images of the season, symbolizes wishes of peace and goodwill and is shared with thoughts of those unable to be home for the holiday as well as departed loved ones."

5. Andrzejki (St. Andrew's Eve)
"This celebration marks the beginning of Advent. On November 29, Poles gather for a night of merriment and fortune telling. We dance, play games, and get a glimpse of the future. Unmarried girls take turns pouring melted wax into a bucket of water, searching for clues to their matrimonial prospects in the hardened cloud-like shapes. The timeless notions of romance and true love keep this tradition alive, and many young Poles celebrate the holiday in modern dance clubs."

—Interview by Bronwyn Barnes

Photographs by Kai Ulrich Muller (CORBIS, left), John Madere (CORBIS, center), and Steve Raymer (CORBIS,  right).

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