The population of Poland is 38,5 mln and in this respect the country is eighth largest in Europe. Average population density is 122 residents per square kilometre, although this is strongly diversified between the relatively densely populated south and the north. In 892 towns or cities are 23.89 m people (61.8%), in the countryside 14.76 m (38.2%). Poland is, from the point of view of ethnicity, a rather homogeneous country. National minorities represent less than 5% of the entire society. The largest ethnic minorities are the Ukrainian, Belorussian, German and Romani; among the smaller are the Slovak, Czech, Lithuanian and Jewish. Outside of the country live around 12 m people of Polish descent, with 6-7 m having settled in the United States. The number of Poles in Russia and the states of the former Soviet Union is estimated to be 1-2.5 m.
Major towns and cities
Over 40 towns and cities are inhabited by more than 100,000 residents, with five of those having populations of over 500,000. The largest cities are the capital Warsaw (1.71 m residents, in the city and its suburbs 3.5 m), Kraków (757,000), Łódź (753,000), Wrocław (632,000), Poznań (561,000), Gdańsk (456,000), Szczecin (407,000), Bydgoszcz (361,000), Lublin (352,000) and Katowice (312,000).
The official language is Polish, which belongs to a western branch of the Slavic languages. It is used by almost 100% of society, with German, Lithuanian, Belorussian and Ukrainian being minority languages. Numerous dialects exist, reflecting in part German and Ukrainian influences. These are used above all by elderly people. It is possible to distinguish, among others, Silesian (in the south-western part of the country), Mazovian (in the north east), Kashubian (west of Gdańsk), Greater Polish (in the region of Poznań) and Lesser Polish (in the south east). The Polish language is written in the Latin alphabet; it possesses more letters and special marks than the German alphabet.
Around 89% of Poles are Roman Catholic, and the Roman Catholic Church, with 41 dioceses and over 8,900 parishes, exerts a significant influence on society. In 1978 the Polish cardinal Karol Wojtyła was elected as the Pope and took the name of John Paul II. Also functioning in Poland are c. 35 other churches and religious communities, with c. 900,000 members in total. Eight of these churches belong to the Polish Ecumenical Council. The largest of these communities form the Orthodox Church, with c. 506,000 followers, and the Evangelical Lutheran Church, with c. 150,000, while Poland is also home to c. 10,000 Jews. Under communist government the Roman Catholic Church held great political power, being a centre for the opposition, particularly in the 1970s and 1980s.
The national holidays are 3 May (since 1990, and previously from 1918 to 1939), in honour of the introduction in 1791 of the first democratic constitution, and 11 November, remembering Poland regaining its independence in 1918. New Year is celebrated in Poland on 1 January, Easter Monday is a statutory holiday and 1 May is Labour Day. Corpus Christi falls on the Thursday after Trinity Sunday (the Sunday after Pentecost, 50 days after Easter), while Assumption Day falls on 15 August. Celebrated on Solidarity and Freedom Day (31 August) is the establishment of Solidarity, the trade union which in 1989 brought about the fall of communism in Poland. On All Saints’ Day (1 November) Christian saints are celebrated. Christmas is the most important holiday in Poland, and on Christmas Eve, the most important day, the family meets for a festive supper. Also taking place throughout the year are regional holidays, such as the Folk Art Fair in Kraków.