Each country has its own traditions. These traditions are based on the history and religion of the region. Let us explore such a tradition as Wigilia (Christmas Eve) in Poland, its background and the food that is often cooked in this case.
In Polish life Wigilia is one of the most important family holidays. It is also the most important holiday of the year. Wigilia is the day that precedes Christmas. It is also the name of holiday supper where all family members are gathered.
According to this tradition, the supper begins with the appearance of the first star in the sky. This tradition is followed to remember the time the Christ was born. The pray and Gospel reading about the Jesus’ birth precede the supper. (Polishcenter. org. Para. 2)
Wigilia usually resembles a feast where the Christians gather in the evening to meet a great holiday. In the beginning, Wigilia was rather popular before each Christian celebration. That was the old church custom to celebrate each previous day before a great holiday. The religious had a fast till the midnight praying together. Nowadays wigilia became popular only before Christmas. (Culture. pl. Para. 3) On this day in rural houses there were placed four bundles: one of wheat, one of rye, one of barley and one of oats for that the Child of the God would have enough food to feed animals and people. Hay was laid under the table-cloth. Such a table resembles altar and the place where the Son of God was laying. A special setting was made for the family members that have died this year as for the unexpected guest. (Polish Origins. Para. 4) Wigilia became popular in Poland in XVII and spread everywhere in XVIII. The main part of it is a holly supper that consisted of fast dishes. There also was a tradition that the whole day should be a strict fast. During this holy supper only fast dishes should be eaten. The quantity of dishes should be odd but at the same time the food should be diverse so that all kinds of dishes that are eaten during the year should be presented. (Polishcenter. org. Para. 3)
The supper in poor houses consisted of five or seven dishes. The supper of a noble family consisted of nine dishes. Aristocracy had eleven kinds of dishes on the table. The explanation of such a choice was rather different. For example, seven dishes symbolized seven days of the week, nine – in honor to nine angel chorus. There also twelve dishes were possible as there were twelve apostles. (Polishamericancenter. org. Para. 4) Uneven quantity of dishes should guarantee a good harvest or good working in future year. The dishes should include all vegetables and fruit that were raised by the family to have a good harvest of all of them in future year. All the dishes should be tasted by each member of the family to have the sufficient amount of all these products. Such traditional food as red-beet soup, mushroom or almond soups were presented on the table. Besides fish dishes such dishes as pea with cabbage, dishes from dried mushrooms, stewed fruit were served as well. (Polishcenter. org. Para. 3)
The tradition of Wigilia includes an even quantity of persons at the supper. If the quantity of the participants is uneven that means that for one of them there will be misfortune in the following year. It is considered that the worst quantity of the participants is thirteen. Unfortunate number of thirteen takes its roots from the Last Supper when Judas became the thirteenth participant. In case the quantity of people at the supper was uneven in rich houses there was a tradition to invite someone who served for the house. In poor families a homeless was invited. (Polish Origins. Para. 8)
The father of the family or the oldest member of it begins the supper with the praying, reading the describing of the Christ’s birth from the Gospel of Luke. The next action is the division of a special “ bread of an angel” that is called “ oplatek”. This bread is made from the whitest flour and water. The dough is made very thin. While doing this people wish good and lucky things for themselves and others. The bread is divided as the sign of brotherhood and unity. (Polishamericancenter. org. Para. 3) The name of this bread comes from Latin word “ oblatum” that means the bread of self-sacrificing that was divided and eaten among the first Christian people when they met and prayed together. This bread symbolizes the tradition of eating bread and drinking wine that was established by the Christ while his Last Supper. Division of this bread is the most important and culmination moment during Christmas Eve in Poland. This tradition came from the oldest custom of the first centuries of Christianity. This evening supper resembles the feasts that the first Christians had when they gathered together to remember the Last Supper. This custom means mutual dedication one people to another and teaches people to share even the last piece of bread. During this evening people wish each other good things and forgive each other for the bad things they did. From 2003 according to the church commandment that were approved by Vatican there is no more the requirement of fasting anymore during Wigilia. But still Catholic bishop encourage the religious to save this old tradition. Fast Wigilia is recommended when it coinsides with Friday.
The food that was not eaten during the supper was stayed at the oven. A bench with sand or ashes was put beside the oven. This food was assigned for dead relatives. In the morning family looked at the signs on the bench and guessed what dead relatives visited them.
“ Pasterka” finishes the supper before Christmas. This is the mass that is served in church at midnight. According to the tradition it symbolizes the pastors’ arrival to Bethlehem and their worshiping to the just born Messiah. The tradition of holding the church ceremony at midnight in honor to the birth of the Son of God was established in the second half of V. This custom came to Poland with the spread of Christianity. (Polish Origins. Para. 13)
Nowadays Wigilia in Poland is still very popular. And as Poland is very religious country this tradition is considered as one of the most important family holiday and is celebrated over the whole country. All the dishes that are served on this evening are tightly connected with the traditions of Christianity and interpret in some way the Bible. Even those families that are not very religious celebrate this holiday as a public one as the country has great vocations from this year until the day of New Year.
Our writers will create one from scratch for
Polishcenter. org. Wigilia. Retrieved from http://www. polishcenter. org/Christmas/WIGILIA-ENG. htm
Polishamericancenter. org. Wigilia. Retrieved from http://www. polishamericancenter. org/Wigilia. htm
Polish Origins. Christmas Eve – Wigilia. Retrieved from http://polishorigins. com/document/wigilia
Culture. pl. The 12 Dishes of Polish Christmas. Retrieved from http://culture. pl/en/article/the-12-dishes-of-polish-christmas