Unlike the Irish, Christmas is celebrated among polish on the Eve, and is known as Wigilia (which I can’t pronounce, no matter how many times I tried). On the week coming up to Wigilia we had the house spotless, this meant cleaning windows, doors and out in the garden. Preparation alone was a huge part of the tradition, all family members had allocated tasks that they undertook each year, young to old. This left giving up one to fit me in was difficult, but they did and thankfully as I was thought how to make a new delicious cake.
When the day finally arrived I was informed the main Christmas meal wouldn’t be eaten until evening, Marcin my boyfriend who is polish tried to teach me how to say “Kolacja wigilijna” (Christmas Eve supper) so I would understand what everyone was talking about. I waited around and helped Ranata in the kitchen until it fell dark. Each year Natalia (Natalka) Marcin’s little sister went to look at the night sky to spot the first star! Food was not to be eating until she had found it.
We came back in after finding this first star, (thankfully as I was starving at this stage) and Marcin’s mother Ranata, had 12 different dishes set on the table. I couldn’t understand why their was so much food. I assumed it was due to the fact we hadn’t eaten all day. What a surprise, I was wrong; each dish had a meaning, which was good luck for each of the next 12 months. The meal was meat free, this is to remember the animals who took care of the baby Jesus in the manger.
Before we dug in everyone at the table wished one another good luck, which was really nice. All there was expected to eat or at least try some of the twelve foods spread across the table – even if your to full. It was surprising all the different meanings that was behind Christmas for the polish, everything had its reasoning, I didn’t understand before how much Polish respected and carried out their traditions even when living in another country they were devoted.
After awhile of eating, drinking, telling stories and singing (many hours), I noticed a place was left empty at the meal table, me oblivious thought another family member or friend was joining us, when actually it was laid out for an unexpected guest. Polish people say that no one should be alone or hungry Christmas eve, therefore if someone unexpectedly knocks on the door they are welcomed. I thought this was a lovely tradition, most people only want to spend Christmas with their families and don’t think of those who may be lying in the cold without food. The polished welcome all including the homeless and less fortunate. This showed my a complete different side to these people.
Presents are not allowed to be opened until the meal and caroling was fished, it as seen as rude and unconventional to open gifts befor hand. This explained Natilias want for us to eat faster.In Ireland christmas is very much based around giving and receiving presents, Polish are typically not like this, they base their christmas round their religion and family togetherness. If you wanted to find the true meaning of christmas I recommend you go spend it with these guys! I had a fantastice Christmas my overall experiences were lovely. It was definitely different to christmas in my house but I guess that is what made it special, the true sense of togetherness and traditions.