For days in advance, we prepared the traditional foods and anxiously awaited the moment when the first star, that appears in the eastern sky on Christmas Eve. For that was when the feast to commemorate the birth of the Christ Child began. Our little community gathered around the table.
There is always a thin layer of hay under the white tablecloth in memory of the Godchild in the manger. Before sitting down at the table, everyone broke the traditional wafer, or Oplatek and exchanged good wishes for health, wealth and happiness in the New Year. The Oplatek is a thin, unleavened wafer similar to the altar bread in the Roman Catholic Church. It is stamped with the figures of the Godchild, the blessed Mary, and the holy angels. The wafer is known as the bread of love…
The dinner itself differs from other evening meals in that the number of courses is fixed at seven, nine or eleven. A lighted candle in the windows symbolizes the hope that the Godchild, in the form of a stranger, may come to share the Wigilia and an extra place is set at the table for the unexpected guest. This belief stems from the ancient Polish adage, “A guest in the home is God in the home.”
The Wigilia is a meatless meal, no doubt the result of a long-time Church mandate that a strict fast and abstinence be observed on this day before Christmas. Although the Church laws have been revised and permit meat to be eaten on this day, the traditional meal remains meatless. Our traditional Wigilia menu included mushroom soup, boiled fried fish, pierogi, barszcz with little dumplings, dried fruit compote, poppyseed cake and pirnik , platek, and fruit salad.
After the meal gifts were shared with our guests.