Good morning to my fabulous readers. As I state here and there in my blogs, please feel free to make comments. They truly are inspiring and welcomed.
Now for some of you, you may have looked at the title and wondered what in the world is that? Anyone out and try to look it up? Well, it is a Polish tradition that occurs on Christmas Eve.
For those who may not be of Polish descent, or are and don't celebrate the tradition or know the facts behind the customs, I thought that might share. Why on such a warm day in June? Why not! Perhaps it will inspire you to get ready for one this coming Christmas.
You see, the Polish Santa, number one, is called the star Santa. If you have perhaps seen one you might have questioned why the stars? Well, the answer would be that in Poland on Christmas Eve it was tradition that the evening could not begin until a child saw the first star in the sky. After that, the Wigilia begins.
Now Wigilia is the Christmas Eve dinner, which is traditionally a 12 course, meatless dinner.
When I was growing up, we just called it Christmas Eve. We were of Polish descent, but my Grandmother first and foremost always insisted we were Americans first. We somewhat had celebrated Wigilia, but never had used that word. I remember that on Christmas Eve, all the Aunts and Uncles and cousins would come over and we would have all types of meatless food. There was always big trays of Shrimp with cocktail sauce. Fried Fish, Grandma's Potato dumplings, Chubs (smoked fish) Cheese balls and crackers, and Potato and Sauerkraut Pierogi. I remember everyone spending the evening and then when they would go home, we would prepare to go to midnight mass. Everyone but Grandma would go. We belonged to St. Stanislaus B & M. in Chicago. Oh how I can close my eyes, even till this day and remember the beauty of it all. The church was large like a cathedral, and to the right of the Main alter was where the large state of the Virgin Mary stood. For Christmas, they would erect scaffolds around a life-size Crèche and Nativity scene, Around that, using the scaffolds, they would fill in in all around with live Christmas trees lit with blue lights. It appeared as though the trees were a mountain and the sky at the same time. The church was dimly lit and the choir singing in Polish was magnificent. After mass was over, we would return home to opening up the front door to some of the most delicious smells. Grandma had prepared our Christmas Day meal. We gathered once again around the table and now partook in another meal...this one was with Ham and Polish sausages, sauerkraut, coleslaw and mashed potatoes. We could also munch on any of the early delicacies if we wanted as well. After the meal, we would open our Christmas presents because Santa had come while we were gone and they were all under the tree. I can remember that we wouldn't be finished to often times 4 in the morning. Christmas day was always spent in our Pj's.
When I married, my husband and his family had all come from Poland via a refugee camp in Germany during the WWII. They celebrated with the Wigilia on Christmas eve. I remember all of his family gathering to their 12 course meatless dinner, There were so many foods that I had never eaten before in my life. Their polish background was much more different than mine. It is regional thing. Before any of the partaking in food, they had the tradition of sharing the Opratek, (a blessed wafer). His Grandparents broke the 2 large sheets of wafer and made a wish to each other. They then proceeded to break the wafer with everyone there. And each person must in turn break with everyone, making sure that when you broke the wafer that you would get a piece of theirs and they a piece of yours. Once everyone had broken bread (so to speak) and made their wishes to each other, out came the first course, which was either mushroom or a sauerkraut soup called Kapushniak. It was after the soup that trays and trays and trays of fishes, meatless rolled cabbages, salads of every sort, egg dishes, etc. came out. I remember one year I asked what I could make...and I was told pierogi...so some 300 pierogi later...I decided from then on that I would tell them what I would bring, I never wanted to get stuck with that chore again. They had to be made with fruits or sauerkraut. I had never heard of making pierogi with fruit, but they were delicious. I used blueberries and strawberries, plums and peaches. They can be eaten as a dessert with sour cream. Boy they were delicious.
As years went by, and my husband and I were the only children in each family, I took over the holidays, and my children grew up with a Christmas Eve Wigilia and had Christmas Day, American style. This went on for years and years, until my daughter got married and her husbands family celebrated Christmas Eve, and for the first time is many a moons, I had to let go of the Wigilia night. I remember crying and crying that first year. It just didn't seem like Christmas. I sat on the chair, angry, mad, upset, and depressed. Friends would say...."Have it on Christmas" But I couldn't imagine not having my families traditions of the American Christmas. I finally grew up the next year. I finally considered myself an adult because I had rationalized it. My main reason for being so sad, was that I didn't want my grandchildren to not know the Wigilia tradition. So, the more I thought about it...I decided it was the tradition and not the day that it was held on that should be so important. So from that day on, I would hold it on a day in January when I could include not only my family, but also friends. I loved it even more then, because now, every one could relax and enjoy and listen to the stories and the tradition of our ancestors.
I started also adding a German tradition to the Wigilia since my son-in law was German .I started hanging a pickle on the tree. The first year, I read the tradition and had the children charge towards the tree...there was a special gift for the first one who found it. On the next year...I knew they would be checking out the tree for the pickle before dinner and chuckled to myself on how clever I had been. After the meal I read the story of the spider and they were shocked to hear that this time they needed to locate the spider in the tree I told them the story of the first star on Christmas Ev,e and had stars at each person's place setting that we each made, out loud, our Christmas wish on and added it to the greeneries centerpiece on the table. So in the end, all was happy. Christmas was shared , and well, in the beginning, the first Christmas...that was the whole message. Traditions are an important memory. It is like an ink spot on our lives. It is the family tree in real-time. I would love to hear your traditions if you would care to share them with me. As time goes by, I will share more of mine. What Christmas represents should carry out throughout the year. I am so happy that I learned that valuable lesson. Christmas is all about sharing love and remembering the reason for the season.