Christmas, Life

Polish Christmas tradition

December 27, 2011

I wanted to tell you a little about Polish Christmas traditions. I know Christmas is over, but so many times I wanted to share how it looks like in Poland, but I never got enough time. It is quite different from Irish traditions.

Polish Christmas Eve - mushrooms soup
 

Polish traditions are not the same in different parts of the country, so don’t think about it as a dogma.
Anyway, the most important day for Polish is Christmas Eve (Wigilia). We gather in the evening for a supper. It should be about the time when the first star appears in the sky (or somewhere close to that as during the winter sky isn’t always clear ;)). At the beginning the fragment about Christ birth is read from the Gospel of Matthew or Luke. Then we brake off the Christmas wafer (opłatek) and wish each other all the best. As a child I loved to eat the opłatek that left (ok I still do it, it’s delicious).

Polish Christmas Eve - Christmas wafer (opłatek)

The table should be covered with white tablecloth and underneath it is a hay. We leave an empty dish cover for unexpected guest.
Because Advent – the time waiting for Christmas use to be a time of Lent, so that’s why at Wigilia there is no meat or any animal fats. We eat mostly fish and vegetables, typical dishes would be: beetroot soup (barszcz) with little dumplings (uszka), dried mushroom soup, cabbage with mushrooms, dumplings (pierogi) with cabbage and dried mushrooms or with dried mushrooms and a lot of fish, like fried carp (a carp is the most traditional fish for Wigilia), fish aspic, herrings in different kinds of marinates.

Polish Christmas Eve - pierogi

For a dessert there would be gingerbread, ginger cookies, or kutia (a dish from wheat, poppyseed, honey, dried fruits, walnuts and almonds). Everything during Wigilia is symbolic, poppyseed means wealth, fish – health. It supposed to be twelve dishes as there were twelve Apostles.

Polish Christmas Eve

After the supper finally comes Santa and leaves presents (in some homes he actually show up!). Ok, it’s not so simple with Santa, depending on the region the presents can be brought by Santa, Angel, Gwiazdor, or Dzieciątko (Child). And if you were naughty you would will get a birch, that’s for sure, but luckily I never got one. At midnight we attend to the Midnight Mass. And next days we visit family and eat a lot, mostly cold cuts of meat, salads and warm dishes as bigos, white sausages (biała kiełbasa), or chicken. Desserts are more festive, there are cheesecakes, poppyseed strudels and tortes.
I must say Wigilia at my home never wasn’t too strict. We never checked if there were exactly twelve dishes and my mum would allow to eat festive cakes, but we keep most of the tradition I wrote you about. My mum always makes tons of fried pierogi with dried mushrooms. Of course there is always too much food, but I start to think that what are Christmas about. This year we were here in Dublin, we spent Christmas Eve by ourselves and I really tried to make a reasonable amount of food, but somehow we ended up stuffed with food like usual.

I hope you had nice Christmas as we did.

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15 Comments

  • Reply Cross My Apple Tart December 30, 2011 at 10:30

    Sounds lovely Magda, I have a Polish friend and she was explaining the beetroot soup she was going to make with the dumplings to me. I will have to send her the link to your page. Lovely photos again too!

  • Reply Magda December 30, 2011 at 10:51

    Thank you Adrienne. I noticed almost everybody in Ireland has at least one Polish friend :)

  • Reply Colette December 30, 2011 at 13:05

    I think we have lost out on a lot of traditions here in Ireland due commercialism, which is a great pity. I always put a single candle in the window (electric!) on Christmas Eve, to “welcome the birth of Jesus” as my Mother used to tell us. Most people now place a bridge-shaped set of candles, which means nothing really, but decoration! Your Polish Christmas traditions are amazing compared to here, most people just eat and drink all day long, and that’s it. Love your pictures in B & W too.

  • Reply Magda December 30, 2011 at 13:14

    Collate, thank you. I like them in B&W too.
    socialism had good sides as well. Commercialism is coming to Poland as well, in few years there will be only Santa that brings presents and nobody will remember Angel, Child or Gwiazdor. But hopefully traditional Christmas Eve Supper will survive, because indeed it is beautiful.

  • Reply Imen McDonnell January 4, 2012 at 19:41

    Magda, one of my absolute favourite things to eat is pierogi. It is big where I am from in the USA too. I have bought it here in the Polish shops a few times and my Irish family think I am crazy! it’s so good. Your Christmas looks lovely. Imen xx

  • Reply Magda January 4, 2012 at 21:15

    Thank you Imen. Pierogi are good. Why think they you are crazy? Pierogi are like Italian ravioli. I made them for my friends – Italian, Irish and Dannish and all of them like them. They are so simple. You must convert your Irish family into pierogi.

  • Reply Martyna@WholesomeCook January 14, 2012 at 09:53

    Lovely post Magda! Makes me feel a little homesick… having said that I often cook pierogi and barszcz is one of our favourite soups too, so when I make it during our winter in July it kind of has the feel of Christmas a little.

  • Reply Martyna@WholesomeCook January 14, 2012 at 09:55

    Lovely post Magda! We all love Christmas Eve piergi and barszcz here. And I love all of the Polish Christmas eve traditions. Worth cultivating.

  • Reply Lisa Kind January 19, 2013 at 16:06

    We have a totally different Christmas Eve dinner that I’ve never heard anyone else prepare. My grandma told us there were 13 different foods we need to eat on Christmas Eve. We first have dumplings (warmed) with honey drizzled on top. Next we heat prunes in water to make a broth and eat it with navy beans. Lastly, we eat a mushroom soup that we start making about 5 days prior to Christmas. You mix 3 cups wheat flour with 5 cups water and lots of garlic sliced thinly. This ferments for 3 days (stirring frequently each day). Then you add dried mushrooms that are boiled in water for 1 1/2 hours or so. Save the water to add later to darken and add more flavor to the soup. On Christmas Eve, boil 8 cups water and add the flour mixture. Simmer for a while and add more water as desired. We serve this with boiled potatoes. So yummy! Anyone else ever heard of this? I also make my Grandma’s old fashioned cheesecake on yeast dough with cottage cheese and farmer’s cheese! My favorite dessert EVER!

    • Reply Magda January 22, 2013 at 22:33

      No, I don’t know these traditions. Some of them look a little bit like Polish. Where does your grandma come from Lisa?

    • Reply Lisa Kind January 22, 2013 at 23:29

      My family is originally from Poland very near Auschwitz. I went there last summer to visit relatives and they were only familiar with the soup, but not anything else. I have been trying to find someone who knows of these traditions.

    • Reply Magda February 3, 2013 at 16:56

      The number of 13 dishes is quite unusual. It should be 12 dishes as there were 12 apostles.
      Dumplings with honey seems quite standard. What kind of filling they have?
      I found that the beans with prunes are probably either from Podkarpacie (very southern-east of Poland) or Silesia (Śląsk)
      The soup you describe it is sour mushroom soup. I found quite a few recipes for it. The sour soup is typical for Easter http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sour_rye_soup, but I guess it is Chrismasy twist. I’m almost sure that you should rather use rye flour instead of wheat, but maybe it is your family variation.
      So it looks like most of the recipes you mentioned are quite traditional. There is great amount of different recipes in Poland. It all depends were are you from. My parents have very different traditions for Christmas Eve, but as my mum’s family is bigger, I’m almost not familiar with my dad’s traditional dishes.

    • Reply Michele December 23, 2016 at 17:55

      Lisa, our family would make the same soup with rye. Later my Aunts and Dad (all first generation) found ways to shorten the process by adding vinegar instead of allowing it to ferment.

      • Reply Magda December 24, 2016 at 13:39

        HI Michele,
        Well you can always cheat the system, but slow fermentation is always best for your tummy :)

  • Reply How Polish Christmas smells like? - Magda's Cauldron December 23, 2013 at 11:03

    […] can read a little bit more about Polish Christmas traditions here and more Christmas recipes here. And now excuse me, I need to go and dice veggies for a Russian […]

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