|December 24 - Wigilia - Christmas Eve|
the Latin term vigilare meaning "to await") is the
Polish name for Christmas Eve. Much work must be done, including
cooking, baking, and all the
housework. This way, the two holidays that follow can be devoted
to praying, caroling, eating, relaxing, and eventually visiting.
This special day is
associated with several beliefs and customs.
the first star appears in the sky, the Christmas tree is lit and
the dinner begins. The Christmas Eve meal starts with a
prayer, the sharing of the blessed oplatek (consecrated bread
wafer which is similar to
that used during Holy Communion in the Roman Catholic Church),
and exchanging wishes. Usually, the male head of the household
takes the wafer and turns to his wife, extending it toward her.
He wishes her good health and
success in the upcoming year, the fulfillment of her dreams, and,
if there have been any misunderstandings, he asks her for forgiveness
the new year to be a better one. The wife then thanks him
and breaks off half of the wafer and eats a piece of it. Next, she offers the wafer to her husband, expressing similar wishes.
He breaks the wafer and eats it. This ceremony is repeated
with each person present, beginning with the oldest and ending
with the youngest.
the breaking of the wafer and an the exchanging of wishes, everyone
sits down at the dinner table. The table is covered with a white tablecloth and there is one additional place set for an
unexpected guest who, especially that night, should not be
turned away. This is to remind us that St. Joseph and Mary were
also looking for shelter. Until the first star appears, Wigilia
is a day of fasting. Although there are plenty
of dishes on the table, this is a traditionally meatless
dinner. It consists of several soups (red beet with mushroom
pockets, fermented rye, fish, dry mushroom), fish (fried,
jellied, in sweet sauce, in beer-almond-ginger sauce, staffed),
sauerkraut with beans, pierogi (dumplings) stuffed with mushrooms and
cabbage, noodles with poppy seeds and honey, sweet strudel, and a
compote made with dried fruit. It should be pointed out that
today in Poland, no one imagines the Wigilia dinner without
fish (carp in particular), just as nobody in the U.S. thinks of Thanksgiving dinner without a turkey.
after dinner is devoted to different activities. It is
customary to feed the domestic animals with oplatek and
dinner leftovers, especially cows to assure the production of plenty of milk.
Girls listen to hear from which direction a dog barks because,
as the saying goes, it is from that direction her prospective
husband will come. Children and teenagers go to the orchard and
beat fruit trees with small branches so there will be an
fruit next year. Old stories are told and carols are sung. These
activities continue until it is time to attend midnight Mass. In Polish
it is called Pasterka, "the Mass of the
commemorate the shepherds who were the first to greet the
newborn baby Jesus.
is something magical experienced on the way to midnight Mass. Stars are
shining and bells are ringing. The snow crunches and whitens the
way. Sleighs are heard and one can almost detect the
singing, "Silent Night, Holy Night."
Mass, people return to their homes and have a glass of hot compote and a
piece of cake.
Wigilia Table Check List
a short list of foods typically found on the Polish Christmas Eve
table. Because practices vary from region to region within Poland,
this guide is not a definitive list but rather a handy
reminder for those of you who wish to keep this tradition alive
in your family.
An extra setting for an unexpected wanderer.