Continuing with our series on Christmas traditions worldwide, Country Director Dorota Wierzbicka describes the age-old customs at her Christmas Eve dinner table.
Wigilia is the Polish name for Christmas Eve. The whole family gathers on that night and waits impatiently for the appearance of the first star. With its first gleam, they all approach the dinner table, which is covered with a white tablecloth. But there is one additional place set for an unexpected guest who, especially that night, should not be turned away.
A Polish Christmas Eve dinner starts with the ceremony of breaking of the “oplatek”. The oplatek is a thin wafer, made of flour and water.
The Christmas Polish tradition of the oplatek goes like this: The father or eldest member of the family reaches for the wafer, breaks it in half and gives one half to the mother. Then each of them breaks a small part of each other’s piece and, after a warm kiss, they wish each other long life, good health, joy and happiness, not only for the holiday season, but for the coming year and for many years to come. Now the same ceremony is repeated (exchanged) between the rest of the people present.
After the ceremony of breaking of the wafer and exchanging of wishes, everyone sits down at the dinner table.
Here’s a short list of foods typically found on the Polish Christmas Eve dinner table (this is a traditionally meatless dinner):
- Red beet soup with mushroom “uszka” (little pierogi)
- Herring in oil, pickled herring
- Fried carp
- Sauerkraut with mushrooms
- Dried-fruit compote
- Kutia (a dish made from boiled wheat, poppy seeds, and honey)
- Pierogi, traditionally with cabbage and mushrooms
- Oplatek (Christmas wafer)
- Poppy-seed cake