Wesolych Swiat! (Merry Christmas!)
Today is Wigilia in Poland (Christmas eve), and this means Christmas celebrations are about to begin tonight! (yep, and it also means Santa is coming!)
Many poles, like us, have been frantically preparing the food for tonight’s meal, and It’s normally quite a feast!
We’ve also been decorating the tree all morning, something that’s a tad different to other countries where you get the Christmas tree weeks earlier … it is spreading to Poland too now thought. But the traditional way is to go to the snowy market and get the tree and decorate it in the morning of Wigilia!
The Wigilia meal is made up of an odd number of dishes (and supposedly even number of guests at the table), normally we have around 13 (we are naughty and we count butter, bread etc as dishes :)) and it’s a full on feast consisting of:
- Barszcz (beetroot soup) with uszka (means ears, but they’re mini versions of dumplings/pierogi with similar filling and made into ring shapes)
- Sledz (pickled herring) with onions, bread (yum) and butter
- Lovely vegetable salad that takes ages to prep as its a humongous amount of chopping! It includes pickled gherkins, apples, onions, cooked carrots, parsnip and peas with either yoghurt or mayo
- Fried carp, which is a rich and heavenly fish but the bones are seriously deadly!
- Pierogi/dumplings (obviously!) , made with cabbage and mushroom filling (yep, ours are handmade this year, if only a bit coming apart)
- Juice made from dried fruit – plums, pears (smoked) and dried apples, boiled the day before in a massive cauldron of water – great for digestion!
- … and then of course we move onto the cakes – sernik (cheesecake), makowiec (poppy seed strudel cake) and piernik ( honey cake)
There are many variations, you could also have dough pasta with poppyseeds, other fish if you like, kutia (poppyseed, seeds, almonds and raisin dessert), barszcz could be with mushrooms and you could have filo pastry ‘faworki’ biscuits…. a lot depends on the area of Poland as to what the traditional food is on Wigilia.
The Wigilia meal normally begins around 6pm when the first star comes up in the sky, like many Christmas traditions this one is also most fun as a child 🙂 I remember sitting by the window for ages as a kid waiting for the star, which would mean food and ultimately checking out the presents that Santa might have left under the tree (but only after the dinner!) :).
You can’t also have Wigilia without ‘oplatek’ which is ‘Jesus’ body’ which you break and share around the family table – normally it’s the head of the family who walks around and offers the oplatek round and breaks 3 pieces with everyone while exchanging wishes for the coming year. A very lovely tradition an probably the most poignant for me of the whole evening.
The other traditions are to set an extra plate and setting for the unexpected guest who might turn up on Wigilia and also to put some hay under the tablecloth to make sure you have good luck in the coming year.
I’ve also just heard on the radio other superstitions such as – the first person through the door on Wigilia should be a male, otherwise it’s bad luck, and unmarried ladies need to throw in the air the kutia dessert, if it sticks to the ceiling – well that means the lucky lady will marry that year!
Midnight mass is also a tradition practiced in Poland, being a mostly catholic country…. who knows we might stay up long enough tonight to go. Polish carols are beautifully melodic (and remind me of my childhood) so worth going just for that, not to mention all the nativity scenes to visit in every church, each one different, modern or traditional or with live animals!
Wigilia is by far the most magical time in the Polish calendar and well worth experiencing for yourself, one thing is you will definitely not go hungry!
More photos to come tomorrow from this evening’s festivities 🙂