Thursday, December 21, 2017

Christmas Eve traditions, customs and dishes

It's that time of the year again, when I am missing Polish traditions and my family overseas. The time which feels the most magical and peaceful out of all days in a year.
To me, it's Christmas Eve - Wigilia.
I posted previously about many traditions and the sequence of the Christmas Eve dinner. Somehow, I feel the need to share my sentiments with the readers again, as this day is approaching fast.

My favorite tradition is stated in this saying: "May you never be too grown up to search the skies on Christmas Eve". Waiting for the first star to appear in the sky used to be my favorite and the most exciting part of the evening as a child. Besides opening my presents after the dinner, of course. Part of it must be because it feels really mysterious to search the skies, and another must be the excitement of eating food after all day of fasting!
Do I still look at the sky? - you bet! Some people are searching for Santa's sleigh, others for a star that guided the Three Wise Man to Bethlehem to find Baby Jesus. It's a beautiful tradition. I cherish it so much that I want to pass it to my children. It's totally fine with me if they search the skies twice that night - for the first star before the dinner and for Santa's sleigh before bedtime. Double the magic! As I know from my own my experience, searching for the star stays with you as you get older. 😉

Another very important tradition that I cherish each year is Oplatek (wafer) sharing, thanks to my Mom who shares it with us! It always comes with wishes of good health, love and luck for the next year.
Even though, we're having a very small Christmas Eve dinner this year, I'm excited about the tradition of wafer sharing with Polish Christmas carols being played in a background. Our children will also open one Christmas Eve present that night. I'm thinking about starting to call it a "Christmas Eve Box", as a way of combining Polish and American traditions of opening gifts on different days.

Let's talk about food a bit, too. It is much more different than here in US.
Polish Christmas Eve dinner consists of 12 dishes. Almost in each household, there are 12 dishes on a table. Number 12 is referred to the number of the Apostles and months of the year. Tasting each of the dishes is believed to guarantee strength and luck. Since no one wants to have a bad luck until next Christmas, majority of guests overeat. Dishes vary depending on a region of Poland and the most popular are:

  • Choice of soup: red borscht (made of beets), white borscht (sour rye soup) or mushroom soup,
  • Uszka - mini dumplings filled with mushrooms 
  • Pierogi filled with sauerkraut and mushrooms
  • Fried, baked fish with carp being a main dish
  • Herrings - pickled, in cream, and in many more variations 
  • Bigos - combination of sauerkraut and fresh cabbage with mushrooms and spices (cooked on low for a long time, preferably a couple of days). Non-fasting version includes meats and sausage. 
  • Kutia - pearled barley with poppy seed, raisins and nuts
  • Egg noodles with poppy seed
  • Dried fruit kompot - dried fruit soaked in water and cooked (includes dried apples, plums, pears and apricots)
  • Makowiec - poppy seed cake roll
  • Piernik - gingerbread cake

and many more treats, salads and side dishes.... Can you handle it???

Here are the links to my piernik and baked paszteciki/pierogi recipes. I'm not missing out on having paszteciki this year!


Before I finish, I have one more thing worth sharing with you all. I'm going to end this blog post with a fun custom, which many of you might find weird. I remember my dad doing this. It's a custom of putting a carp's scale into one's wallet. Why? To ensure wealth for the entire year. You never know what your Polish friends might carry in their wallets! 😄

Here you go! A little summary of traditions surrounding Polish Christmas Eve Dinner. For more, please visit my older post Wigilia.
I hope that you have a beautiful, joyful Christmas.

Wesołych Świąt Bożego Narodzenia!!!

The Royal Castle, Warsaw.
By: Krzysztof Korczak