Wigilia Table Check List

Here’s a quick list of foods found on the Polish Christmas Eve wigilia table. Because practices vary from region to region in Poland (and subsequently between Polish Americans), this guide is not the definitive list, but a handy reminder for those of you who wish to keep this tradition alive in your family.

  • Mushroom soup with noodles, borsch with mushroom uszka (little pierogi), or fish soup.
  • Herring in oil, pickled herring, carp aspic (jellied carp), stuffed carp, and/or fried carp.
  • Hay under the white tablecloth.
  • Salt, pepper.
  • Sauerkraut with mushrooms, and/or red cabbage.
  • Dried-fruit compote.
  • Noodles with poppyseeds.
  • Kutia (a dish made from boiled wheat, poppy seeds and honey).
  • Pierogi, traditionally with cabbage and mushrooms.
  • Oplatek (Christmas wafer).
  • Bread
  • An extra setting for an unexpected wanderer.

Christmas Reminders

  • Christmas Eve dinner in Poland is not served until the first star appears in the sky.
  • The table is covered with fragrant hay and a white tablecloth. The hay signifies the manger in which Christ was born.
  • A great feature of Christmas Day of the Christmas season is the szopka—a miniature puppet theatre made of cardboard and elaborately decorated with ribbons.
  • The day after Christmas, or St. Stephen’s Day is known in Poland as “drugie swieto,” the second holiday. Throughout Poland on St. Stephen’s the peasants throw grain at one another to bring a good harvest. Members of the family throw grain at each other, at friends, and at the animals in the stable.
  • Christmas festivities last in Poland until January 6, the Day of the Three Kings.
  • What wreaths of holly and jingle bells are to America, the Star of Bethlehem is to Poland: the symbol of Christmas, its very essence of its spirit. It used to decorate every Polish Christmas card, it shone from the top of every Christmas tree.
  • The New Year slips in quietly, ushered by St. Sylvester’s on December 31. December 31 is known as St. Sylvester’s and seldom as New Year’s Eve. It is not a folk holiday. It is celebrated in the cities. New Year’s Day is also little celebrated.
  • In many parts of Poland, boys dressed in traditional costumes, one of them as a devil, another as Judas, and others as angels go at Christmas time from house to house with a big star and sing Polish carols—Christmas goodies and coins are their reward from the audience.
  • The Polish Christmas Carol occupies a unique place in the musical literature of Christianity. Unlike many of the Christmas songs of other countries, the kolęda is not only a prayer but also it is a story, a short story of musical drama depicting that wondrous tale of the Nativity.

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