My Polish Christmas
In between happy family commitments and jolly friend visits, I feel bad for seriously neglecting my blog. Tomek and I have been enjoying Poland at its best, which is Christmas and New Year’s celebrations.
I hope you did the same. I am consoling myself with the thought that you were all suffering from Christmas-cake-induced-comas or simply didn’t have time for silly blogs.
Getting ready for Christmas Eve is a major ado. Poland is largely catholic and it is the event of the year. It mainly involves cleaning the house (very thoroughly), preparing Polish Christmas dishes, wrapping presents, putting on your best dress and visiting churches that have traditional nativity cribs on display.
I am a new age kid and consequently love the frenzy Christmas creates, the decorated windows, the hazardous armies of candles, the glitter and glamour of Christmas trees, which seems to have grown delightfully excessive over the years – but most of all, the get together with family and constant flow of merry visits.
Remembering the real reason for Christmas can be tricky and TV is no help. I recall watching the fight between Santa and Jesus, each gloriously claiming to be the main star at Christmas Eve. Southpark has given Christmas one more unresolved issue.
Some Christmas mysteries will probably never be solved. Do you think the Grinch is an alien in disguise? Will mankind ever find out why Rudolph’s nose is red? Thankfully, these are mainly American matters. But why we are not giving out myrrh nor frankincense as Christmas presents anymore, is probably puzzling to all Catholics. No? Oh, well.
A real mystery this year, busy with everything a Polish Christmas involves, we had not managed to decorate the Christmas tree on time.
Granny and Tomek.
We made up right after Christmas Eve, putting up all decorations that were stored away. Our tree turned out very colourful with blue, red, golden, white and red baubles, feathers, snowflakes, bells, stars, tiny wooden figures and sweets. No tinsel. Those gold and silver chains looking like glittering hair, I preferred to wear on my head – a popular thing in the 90s.
But, we traditionally have placed a star (and unconventionally an angel) on top of the tree.
Sometimes a crib with straw and little statues of the holy family is put up to remind people that Jesus was born in a stable. Dad has an antique collection of statues which he puts up when we celebrate in Cologne/Germany, where I grew up.
This time, we are not celebrating in Cologne/Germany but decided to all reunite in Szczecin/Poland, so I am going to share my Christmas Eve here with you.
Christmas Eve is called Wigilia in Polish and pronounced vee-ghee-lee-uh.
Christmas day in Poland starts tough with a rummaging stomach because fasting until dinner is the rule. Unless you have been practising to make it to the fridge without attracting any attention, then locking yourself in the bathroom providing for unnoticed sugar intake to get through the day. (These are all rumours, of course.)
Meat is not eaten on Christmas at all which is very convenient for flexitarians. Wigilia is meat free and consists of 12 dishes. Usually there is an extra plate and chair at the table as a symbol of compassion for the less fortunate and the willingness to host an unknown hungry soul.
Christmas Eve dishes are consumed after sunset and consist of barszcz (beetroot soup) with uszka (sort of ravioli with mushroom filling), then pierogi (pasta dumplings filled with either cheese and potato or cabbage and mushrooms) and fish, which traditionally is karp (carp). The side dishes are sledzie (herrings), which Tomek’s mum prepared in two variations. And there are cakes for desert.
Glorious dishes in order of consumption:
Steaming hot barszcz.
Barszcz is eaten with uszka.
A fun family tradition is for one lucky soul to find a concealed token. One almond is hidden inside the dumplings which guarantees one year of luck and sometimes a broken tooth. So all family members carefully make their pierogi-pick.
Tomek found one, only to find another one in the next dumpling, to finally find out that his mum decided to use seven lucky tokens this year, blessing the family thoroughly with luck.
Luck can be instantly tested on the Christmas karp. Lucky the one who doesn’t choke on the tiny grates.
Cwikla. Polish style wasabi made of horseradish and beet root.
Karp w galarecie. Carp again, without grates, in aspic.
Sledz. Herring with onions and raisins. The other version had nuts and apples.
Salatka jarzynowa. Polish salad with potatoes, apples, corn, carrot, eggs and peas. Each family has their own recipe.
Frantic unwrapping can have adverse effects on food. The purple star ribbon flew right onto the salad.
To drink, we had house-made kompot (compote made of fruits) and vodka (well… we are not really keeping with Polish tradition here – the right glass actually contains white wine).
For desert we had three home-made cakes. Sernik (cheesecake), piernik (gingerbread) and mum and granny created a rich tort czekoladowo-kawowo-kremowy (chocolate-coffee-cream cake).
At the beginning of Christmas Eve, a white wafer, the delicious oplatek, is shared. It is as slim as paper with depictions of Mary, Joseph and Jesus. Family members give each other their personal wishes, then break off a piece and eat it.
This ritual is the most challenging part of Polish Christmas: making up various wishes according to family members’ distinct needs and aspirations. For example, parents generally wish for grandchildren. Appreciatively, in our family, no one is made to sing carols, recite poems nor dance.
Presents are brought by Swiety Mikolaj (St Nicholas is the Polish Santa). Another peculiar tradition: gifts are opened after the first star has been spotted in the sky. This seemed to take forever when I was expectedly standing at the window as a child starring at the sky.
The first star also marks dads’ or uncles’ disappearance which coincides with Santa’s entry. Alternatively children are made to wash their hands, giving enough time for parents to place presents under the tree.
I have to say that for me, Christmas was a time of great expectations to see Santa in person which clashed with the fact that I missed every chance to meet him as mum was usually fixing my hair in the bathroom. Not so for lucky dad who always got to engage in small talk with Santa, accepting presents for the family. After my hair was perfectly arranged and although I rushed as fast as I could to the Christmas tree, Santa was gone. Always.
This year was different! While dad was off to the bathroom, he missed out big time and I got to meet Santa face to face.
Santa brought us PT chocolate.
And Santa’s little helper were into photo-editing, giving mum and dad magnificent old era looks and frames.
Some families finish Christmas Eve by going to Church for midnight mass but our family prefers to sit together and play board or card games. The days after Christmas were comfortably lazy, spent with family and friends, indulging in delish Christmas leftovers.
I hope you all enjoyed the holidays and had a great Christmas as well.
BTW, Merry Christmas is Wesołych Świąt!