Monday, 24 December 2012


Wigilia is the traditional Christmas Eve vigil supper in Poland, held on December 24. The word "Wigilia" derives from the Latin verb vigilare, "to watch", and literally means 'eve'. The feasting traditionally begins once the First Star has been sighted in the heavens at dusk (around 4-5p.m.) although we started slightly later than this as I had to drive over to Durham after finishing work.

A bundle of hay is placed under the tablecloth to symbolise the fact that Jesus was born in a manger. As a game, pieces of straw are drawn out from under the tablecloth to tell your fortune for the upcoming year, eg growing strongly, branching out, fruitful (though my mother is the best at turning her piece round to "help" predict her fortune! 

Another tradition is to leave one extra place-setting for an "unexpected guest". This is to celebrate the tradition of hospitality and inclusion. The empty seat is left open just in case a traveler, family member, or a friend knocks on the door, so there would be a place for them to join in the celebrations..........which our neighbours have learnt and profited from over the years!

The wafer
Our celebrations begin with a glass of vodka (modern technology is amazing as skype let us share this with family and friends in Scotland and Poland) and the breaking of the Christmas wafer (opłatek - a rectangular unleavened wafer, blessed by a priest, embossed with Christmas images to symbolise the bread eaten daily) and wishing each other good fortune in the upcoming new year. The opłatek is broken by the eldest and the youngest and pieces are given to everyone, who then break off a piece of their opłatek, and share it with everyone else, wishing them luck, joy and good fortune in the upcoming year (finalising the wish by a kiss on the cheek).

Barszcz with uszka
The awesome salmon
A traditional Christmas meal in Poland starts with czerwony barszcz (beetroot soup) and uszka (ravioli). Fish provides a main component of the Christmas Eve meal across Poland as Wigilia is observed as a Black Fast (meaning that most Poles abstain from eating meat on this day). Traditionally the fish is carp, but in the Zakrzewscy household we tend to prefer salmon. My mother excelled herself this year, and had the nicest salmon dish I think I've ever had......full of flavour and so moist. Other dishes include the compulsory sauerkraut and cabbage (kapusta), and walnut/potato croquettes.  
For dessert, there's makowiec (poppy seed roll), babka (panettone), piernik (honey-spiced cake), fruit compote and pierniczki (gingerbread cookies). 
The number of country courses is traditionally established to be twelve (symbolic of the number of months in the year as well as to celebrate the twelve disciples) in a similar manner to the British tradition of eating 12 mince pies over the festive season, so if we've not yet got to twelve, we make it up with dried fruit, nuts and chocolates!!

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