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Wigilia – Traditional Polish Christmas Eve Dinner

December 24th, 2011

Christmas trees, lights and colorful ornaments usually come to mind when we think about Christmas. However, in Poland, Christmas celebrations are always related to feasting  and unique dishes served only during the traditional Christmas Eve dinner. Similarly to Easter, Poles have rich culinary traditions as they celebrate The Birth of Christ. The preparations start many days before Christmas because traditionally there are twelve dishes served during the Christmas Eve dinner. Today, not every Polish household follows this custom but even if there are not exactly twelve dishes, they are very unique  and rarely served at any other time of the year.  Moreover, the number  twelve  is very symbolic; there were twelve apostles and twelve months in a year.

Pieces of blessed wafer (opłatek)

Pieces of blessed wafer - opłatek

During the Christmas Eve dinner pieces of blessed wafer or oplatek are  handed around and broken. This beautiful tradition is kept not only in Poland but  all over the world among people of Polish ancestry.
Herrings (ryba) with onion served during the Christmas Eve

Herring with onion served during the Christmas Eve dinner

Wigilia dinner is traditionally a meatless fare. Fish, such as carp or herring is often served.  Other typical dishes include cabbage stew with mushrooms, Christmas Eve borscht with dumplings or barszcz z uszkami and dumplings with various fillings or pierogi. For dessert, there’s poppy seed roll or makowiec, honey-spiced cake or piernik, fruit cake, fruit compote and gingerbread cookies orpierniczki.  In some parts of Poland, kutia is served, a very unique dessert with wheat and honey. Similar, but not so sweet is makówki, a dessert made of bread, poppy seeds and honey. Makówki is a South – Western Poland delicacy and kutia is popular in Eastern and Central Poland.

Makowiec - poppyeed roll

Makowiec - poppy seed roll

All the dishes are put on a carefully set table. Traditionally straw is put under white tablecloth. There is also an additional seat kept for a stranger who may appear during the Christmas Eve and would be invited to join in the feast.  After Wigilia dinner, families sing Christmas carols or kolędy and exchange presents.  At midnight, many people in Poland, even non-Christians, attend the midnight Mass, known as Pasterka – “the Mass of the Shepherds”.
Home-made gingerbread cookies (pierniki) beautifully decorated with various sprinkles. See the recipe below

Home-made gingerbread cookies or pierniki beautifully decorated with various sprinkles. See the recipe below.

To bake Polish Gingerbread Cookies please try this easy recipe:

 

Polish Gingerbread Cookies

Ingredients:

10 dkg or 4oz of honey
7 flat teaspoons of spices (ginger, nutmeg, cloves)
1 tablespoon of water (should be added to honey)
30 dkg or 10oz of flour
30 dkg or 10oz of butter
8 teaspoons of sugar
1 egg
2 teaspoons of baking soda
sprinkles
chocolate

Preparation:

Dissolve spices with honey and a teaspoon of warm water and let the mixture cool down. In a large bowl, combine and knead flour, butter, sugar, eggs and honey. Place dough in the refrigerator for half an hour. Cut into desired shapes with cookie cutters. Put on a greased form and heat oven to 150 degrees Celsius or 300 degrees Fahrenheit and bake for about 20min.

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