To the Poles, much alike other Eastern Europeans, Christmas Eve (Wigilia) is one of the most important days of religious observance in the year.
The meaning and traditions of Wigilia are representative of the Roman Catholic faith, the significance of family, the perseverance of traditional customs and carb-laden hearty foods.
Wigilia along with the rest of the festive season is a time of year that I always idealised and continue to look forward to. I distinctly recall as a child my mother preparing beautiful and indulgent foods in the kitchen, whilst the rest of the family obediently cleaned the house (including the dreaded windows). I have come to value these menial tasks and memories with age and hope to uphold these values in the future with my future family, in hope to preserve the Polish culture in my life and in hope that my children will love the festive period as much as I do.
With that said, I would love to share with you what Wigilia looks like at my home and how traditional European customs and the modern life we live in Australia intersects, creating our hybrid ‘Wigilia’.
Breaking oplatek with your beloved family and friends is an ancient tradition, whereby
communion bread is broken by the head of the family (traditionally the husband to the wife) and well-wishes are shared between the couple, to be continued with the rest of the table. These well-wishes are strictly to take place before the sharing of the Christmas Eve supper.
The Christmas wafer symbolizes the unity of the family, which many consider to be the main pillar of society. According to beliefs, the bond of unity should exist between family members. The father is seen as the link in the unbroken chain of One Body, One Bread, One Christ, and One Church, while other family members join him in this eternal procession. The wafer also symbolizes forgiveness and reconciliation.
Whilst my best-friend and I dreaded the awkwardness that the oplatek brought, and the
inevitable “I hope you get good grades at school” line – I have come to appreciate these moments as an adult, as honestly, how often do we take time out of our day-to-day lives to appreciate our families and wish them well in their future endeavours?
Christmas Eve Supper
Tradition dictates that there is to be at least twelve (12) meals at the Christmas table, representative of the Twelve Apostles, the twelve days of Christmas and the twelve months in the year.
Wigilia dinner is to be strictly meatless, influenced by the practice of fasting to show respect. As a result, seasonal foods such as boiled potatoes, pickled herrings (sledzie), mushroom soup, beetroot soup, kompot (recipe available at Eastern European Christmas Classics: Kompot) , beans and sauerkraut (groch i kapusta) and other heavy food groups are used.
Polish people also are to prepare spare cutilary, cups, plates and enough food for an extra visitor. This empty place at the table is to represent those who are far from us on this special day, the less fortunate and those speding wigilia alone. My favourite memory is when a man dressed as santa walked through our neighbourhood wishing everyone a Merry Christmas was invited into our home to share in the Christmas Eve dinner and celebrations.
Hand painted and designed baubles play a significant role in accessorising Wigilia and the family Christmas tree.
This year my partner surprised me with a personalised hand-painted bauble with our names on it. This gift is something I will always hold close to my heart due to the strong cultural influences of hand-made bombki, and the fact that this is a sentimental object that we can continue to use into the future. He further outdid himself by both reading and gifting me the Zimmermann Circular Link bag I discussed in both Christmas Gift Guide: Women who have Everything! and the Luxury Addict Tag (lucky me).
Niech czas Bożego Narodzenia upłynie w atmosferze radości i miłości, a Nowy Rok spełni wszystkie wasze marzenia.