The most important celebrations for the Polish family occur on Christmas Eve, or Wigilia ("the Vigil"). The family gathers around the table in the evening, after the sighting of the first star. An extra seat is always left open with the place set; it symbolizes Jesus’ presence at the Vigil and the openness to welcome any guest who may knock on the door and in remembrance of those family members and friends who have passed on or could not be present.
The meatless Wigilia feast begins with reading a passage from the Bible about the birth of Jesus (Luke 2.1-20), prayer of gratitude and the sharing of oplatki (Christmas wafers). Each guest at the dinner takes one whole wafer and goes around to every other person with wishes. After saying the wish for the other person, the pair break off pieces of each other’s oplatek and eat the pieces.
The Wigilia meal begins with soup. Czerwony barszcz (red borscht) with uszka (small tortellini-shaped dumplings filled with mushrooms), is the traditional Wigilia choice. The soup is followed by a large number of dishes (often a symbolic number 12) including carp, pickled herring, pierogi (with cabbage inside), sauerkraut, a fruit compote drink and lots of pastries and other desserts. After the dinner, Santa Claus delivers gifts. Christmas carols are sung and, finally, the celebration concludes with the midnight Christmas Mass at the local church.
Submitted by Sabina Wolniewicz, Surrey