Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Polish Christmas Eve

I would like to take a moment and explain how important Christmas Eve is for Poles, it's the evening of awaiting for Christ to be born. And it's almost more important that the actual Christmas Day. It's a wonderful night of love and miracles (like they say). Growing up we always waited for that day to come, Christmas time is such a wonderful time in a year. And it's not about the presents and gifts - it's about being together with the people you love.

Like I mentioned Polish Christmas Eve has a sort of spiritual meaning for Poles. We believe that this is the night of miracles. We believe that the Spirits of our loved ones that passed away are with us. Another, kind of funny now, thing we believe is that animals are able to speak human voice. I remember when I was little, we would always pay special attention to our cat or dog, no one wanted to miss them speaking...

The day begins like any other day, we have breakfast, and after that everybody just goes to their stuff. My mom and grandma would be in the kitchen making the dishes for our Christmas Eve Supper/Dinner. My dad would bring the tree, and we would start decorating. Yes, we decorated the tree on Christmas Eve. it made it special. So much more special than any other day.

The old fashion tradition is saying that you should sit down to the table once the first star appears on the sky. I remember me and my sister always trying to spot the first star... but we never ate so early, we were usually ready around 6 o'clock. The star symbolizes the Star of Bethlehem that leas Three Wiseman to Baby Jesus.

The table is usually set with a white table cloth and in the center we place a little stack of hay on the the plate and a Holy Wafer on it - that symbolizes Jesus being born in manger on hay. We always have one extra place setting for an unexpected guest or a stranger passing by and not having anybody to spend the Christmas Eve with. We sit down to the table and say a prayer, usually remembering our loved ones that are no longer with us. We share the Holy Wafer among us, saying a wishes to the ones next to you. The Wafer is a thin bread, like Communion, only bigger and it's showing nativity scenes. Sharing the Wafer is a symbolic act of love and friendship, and it's done in a sort of soleman way.

The Christmas Eve dinner is a big fest! There is usually 11 or 12 dishes being served that night. And there is no set menu, it vary from the different regions in Poland.
The dishes that we always had on our table include red borsh with little tiny mushroom pierogi, mashed potatoes, fish - usually carp, sour kraut with wild dried mushrooms, red cabbage salad, pickled herrings with onions, green tomato salad... there is so much more, but those are the dishes I remember the most. The best part of the dinner was the drink - it was a dried fruit compote, simmered for few hours, the taste of dried, smoked fruit was unbelievable. I wish I could make it now - but where would I find those great dried/smoked fruit made in oldfashined smokers...

After the dinner, we would all hang out, watch a Christmas movie, and than the time would come to go to the midnight mass. That was a really great experience that I miss a lot living here. We would bundeled up, and walk about 20 minutes to church. Everybody was going the same direction - kids with their parents, teenagers, elderly... I remember one Christmas Eve it snowed so much right before we left the house, with all the christmas lights and fresh, untouched snow it seemed like such a magical night. It was so beautiful and bright. Everybody was out - going to midnight mass... it didn't matter that it was so late... it was just so awesome...

Sometimes I miss that. I miss Christmas Eve being so special!


We are going to my parents house tomorrow to celebrate the Christmas Eve. I am making few dishes here at home - right now on my stove I have the sour kraut simmering with dried mushrooms, and tomorrow I am making dill mashed potatoes to serve with the breded tilapia. We opted for tilapia as oppose to carp - it's just not the same out here...

So you have a great Christmas Eve, and beautifull Christmas!

1 comment:

Maggie said...

What beautiful traditions! The Slovak side of my family has similar Christmas Eve traditions that was the best part of Christmas for me as a kid. The meatless meal, the special blessing, all the family together.