Tuesday, November 27, 2018
Wigilia: The Polish Traditional Christmas Eve Gathering.
Wesolych Swiat Bozego Narodzenia!
The Polish Christmas Eve festival is one the most beloved traditions for Polish families. The highly anticipated Wigilia, or Christmas Eve Dinner, is served during the festival.
After days of preparation, the celebration starts Christmas Eve when the family anxiously awaits the advent of a very special star in the sky. This star is known as Gwiazdka, and it appears in the eastern sky. As soon as Gwiazdka appears, the feast to honor the birth of the Christ Child begins.
To prepare for the feast, a thin layer of hay is sprinkled on the dinner table then a typical white tablecloth is laid over top of the hay. This is in memory of the manger in which the Baby Jesus was placed after His birth.
Then before the family sits at the dinner table, each member breaks a traditional wafer, or Oplatek. The Oplatek is an unleavened wafer similar to altar bread in the Catholic communion service. The wafers are imprinted with figures of the Baby Jesus, the blessed Mary, and angels. Each person trades well wishes for good health and great wealth and joy in the New Year with one another. This is a time of family bonding and love that all family members look forward to each season.
Another Wigilia tradition is to set lighted candles in the windows. This signifies the hope that Jesus might visit to share the Wigilia. It is believed He would appear in the form of a stranger. So, an extra place setting is always set at the table for this unexpected and welcomed guest. This belief stems from the ancient Polish adage, "A guest in the home is God in the home."
In preparation for the feast, an old Polish myth says there can never be an odd number of people at the dinner table. If there is an odd number, the legend says that some of the feasters will not live to see another Christmas. That’d be enough to make me want to sit at the kid's table.
The meal is the highlight of the night. There are twelve dishes served from the four corners of the earth: forest, sea, field, and orchard. Therefore, you will see such a rich variety of recipes based on fish from the sea, root vegetables, fruit from the orchard, dried mushrooms from the forest, and pirogi made from wheat flour from the field.
Traditional Wigilia recipes:
Polish Vegetable Barley Soup Recipe (Krupnik Polski)
3 tbsp butter
1 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 lb mushrooms, sliced (mix of wild varieties is best)
1 yellow onion, finely chopped
2 large celery stalks, diced
1 large carrot, diced
1-2 parsnips, diced
3-4 garlic cloves, minced
1 leek, chopped
3-4 teaspoons dried thyme
1 bay leaf
4-5 large dried mushrooms
1/2 cup pearl barley
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
5-6 cups chicken stock
1-2 teaspoons chili powder
2 teaspoons sea salt (or to taste)
1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper to taste
1 cup heavy cream (or 3/4 cup sour cream, or 3/4 cup plain yogurt)
Garnish: 1 tablespoon fresh dill or parsley, minced
VEGETABLE BARLEY SOUP DIRECTIONS
1. Clean and slice fresh mushrooms and soak dried wild mushrooms. Heat butter and olive oil till butter is melted. Add the onion, celery, carrot, garlic, leek, and barley stir until slightly softened, do not brown.
2. Raise the heat to medium high and add fresh mushrooms and season with salt and pepper. Cook 8 minutes until they are golden brown, stirring frequently.
3. Reduce heat and add thyme, bay leaf, and flour, stirring constantly and scraping the bottom of the pan for 5-8 minutes.
4. Add the stock and the rest of the ingredients, except the cream (or yogurt) and dill.
5. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to medium, and simmer until slightly thickened for 30 minutes or until mushrooms and vegetables are tender. If too thick, add more chicken stock or water.
6. Remove the pot from heat and serve. Or, keep on low heat and add heavy cream (or sour cream / yogurt) to make a creamy krupnik soup. Taste and adjust seasoning, adding a few drops of lemon juice if desired. Cook for another 5-7 minutes.
7. Ladle into warm bowls and garnish with fresh dill or parsley.
Polish Apple & Leek Salad (Salatka z jablek i porow)
2 leeks, white part only, washed thoroughly
2 large, crisp apples
1 tbsp fresh minced parsley
Juice of 1 lemon
1 Tbsp honey
1 Tbsp mild oil (optional)
Salt & fresh, ground black pepper to taste
APPLE & LEEK SALAD DIRECTIONS
1. Thinly slice the leeks, using only the white part. Peel and core the apples, then slice thinly.
2. Toss all ingredients in a large serving bowl. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
3. Let stand in a cool place for about an hour to allow flavors to blend together.
4. May toss with roasted walnuts.
Do you and your family have any special holiday traditions? An old family recipe? A beloved yearly event or gathering? Please, share your family traditions with us below, and whatever your traditions for this time of year, I hope you have a wonderful, joy filled holiday season.
Until we meet again...
Award winning author, Michele Morris’s love for historical fiction began when she first read Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House book series. Michele loves to hear from readers on Facebook, Twitter, and through the group blog, Heroes, Heroines, and History at HHHistory.com. She is represented by Tamela Hancock Murray of the Steve Laube Agency.