I was making myself tea in the office kitchen, when a colleague asked me – Will you make a turkey for Christmas? This genuine and quite simple question revealed how difficult/different being an expat is. If I had been Irish, the answer would be yes, unless I would be a rebel or vegetarian. But being Polish means we don’t always have the same memories or connotations. The question itself is not only about type of meat or dish to make, it is about tradition, celebration and everything around it. Turkey and ham is for Irish quintessence of Christmas. So trying to answer the question I tried to start from beginning.
The most Christmassy day in Poland is Christmas Eve. Although it is not technically a bank holiday, but it is the day that everybody is looking to, it’s the day when Santa comes and leave presents, it is a day when special dishes appear on the table.
Christmas Eve is very special in Polish tradition. Families meet in the evening, the tradition says you should sit at a table when the first star appears in the sky. And as for food it is all lenten food. We don’t eat meat or meat related food. It is tradition, so the table is full of fish dishes – herring different styles (for example in mustard sauce or Christmassy ones), fried fish (most times it is carp), fish in jelly, Greek fish, cabbage with mushrooms, pierogi with dried mushrooms, compote from dried fruits, mushroom soup or borscht with little pierogi, pierogi with cabbage and mushrooms, Russian salad, croquettes with cabbage and mushrooms. And then cakes and desserts – gingerbread cake with plum jam, poppy seed strudel, cheesecakes, kutia.
So to answer the question from the post title – Polish Christmas smells like Christmas tree (of course), but as well it smells with fried fish, dried mushroom, cabbage, honey, candied orange zest, walnuts, raisins, poppyseed, spices like cinnamon, cardamom, ginger.
So even though on the Christmas Day you will probably have some roasted meats – maybe ham, pork loin, beef roast, chicken, turkey or goose, or probably a few of those. There will be probably as well bigos and white sausage, but that doesn’t matter. The only day that matters is Christmas Eve and the standard Polish question would be “Will you make a carp for Christmas?”
So I’m sorry I can’t answer the question with simple yes or no. Being expat means being out of context and even though I’m a rebel that loves trying new recipe, when you ask me about Christmas I want you to understand what Christmas means to me.
You 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 salad, mince poppyseed for a poppyseed strudel and make vegetarian pate with dried prunes.