Christmas Eve is the most holy and meaningful day of the year in Poland. It is a day of waiting for and celebration of the birth of the Christ Child. Wigilia comes from the Latin word “vigilare” which means to wait. Early in the day, the cooks of the family start preparing the meal. The meal traditionally consists of twelve meatless dishes. This includes many kinds of fish, beet or mushroom soup, various dishes made from cabbage, mushrooms, or potatoes, and pierogi. It is often followed by dried fruit compote and pastries for dessert.
While the meal is being cooked, the other family members and children, decorate the Christmas tree and set the table. Hay is usually placed in the corners of the room and on the tablecloth, recalling Christ’s humble birth in a stable. An extra place setting is added in memory of those who are not able to join the family for Wigilia. When the first star, gwiazdka, appears in the night sky, the meal begins. A prayer is said first. Next the family members share the oplatek and exchange good wishes. After this the family sits down to the long waited meal.
After Wigilia, the family gathers under the tree, choinka, to exchange gifts and sing carols. Shortly before midnight, the family goes to Midnight Mass. The Polish word for this is pasterka, which means Shepherds’ Mass. This is because only shepards came to adore Jesus on the night of his birth.
While the above may or may not be your family tradition, we are interested in how your family shares Christmas Eve. Please feel free to leave a comment.