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Wigilia

December 24, 2012

That’s pronounced Vih-GEE-lee-ah, and it’s Polish for “the vigil,” the traditional Christmas Eve meal.

Christmas Eve is more important than Christmas Day for the Polish. In the strictest tradition, you actually keep watch for the first star to appear, signalling that Christmas has begun. As a kid I did that with my brothers and sisters, looking out the window to see the first star, which meant we could turn on the Christmas tree lights and the lights decorating the front porch. We never turned the lights on before Christmas Eve.

(If the day was cloudy, the agreed-upon time was 5 p.m. for the appearamce of the first star).

And then we’d eat the traditional meal: mushroom soup to start, followed by herring, pierogi (cheese, plum and kapusta) rye bread, fish (halibut before it became too expensive, and later cod or flounder), followed with kolaczky and other sweets for dessert. The meal did not include meat when I was a child because eating meat was forbidden by the Catholic Church on the day before Christmas.

The table was always set with one extra place, keeping with the old Polish tradition that if a stranger who needed a meal was passing by and saw your lights on, he was welcomed in to share your food so he wouldn’t go hungry on Christmas Eve. There’s a second, alternative explanation for the extra setting: It symbolized that you reserved a place for the Christ Child at your table.

After the meal and dessert, everyone gathered around the Nativity set to sing Polish Christmas carols. The Infant was covered with a small napkin, and the youngest member of the family (as my brothers and sisters got married this included my nieces and nephews) would uncover Baby Jesus as we sang the most beloved of all Polish Christmas songs, Lulajze, Jezuniu, or Lulaby, Sweet Jesus.

So to everyone who’s reading this I wish you Wesolych Swiat Bozego Norodzenia i Szczesliwego Nowego Roku.

That means Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

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From → Language, Verbiage

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