Wigilia preparation at my home is well under way, and all is under control at this time. But what exactly is wigilia, you may ask. It is something that my family has never not celebrated, it is a tradition, not only in our family, but a Polish tradition. If you want to know more about it in detail, I suggest you read this article here, or just search the Internet, there is a lot of info out there.
Here is how I remember wigilia. For us, wigilia is the gathering of family and friends to celebrate Christmas. We start by passing around opłatek, a communion wafer-like bread, each breaking off a piece, dipping in honey and wishing god’s blessings on all. Years ago I remember my grandfather Szczęch saying some prayer in Polish, and each of us would have to respond in Polish as well, the meaning of which was something like God have mercy. Then we get down to business. We eat a traditional meatless meal (meatless because in the Catholic church years ago, it was a day of abstaining from meat). Our two main foods were always several varieties pierogi and fish. After the dishes were done, we’d exchange and open presents. Then we’d go to midnight mass. In my head, I can still hear the beautiful Kolędy that were sung in old St. Hedwig’s church, and later at St. Mary Częstochowa. And after midnight mass, we’d head back home and have snacks and treats and visit and laugh into the wee hours of the morning–at least we did this when we were older. And when we were kids, we’d go to bed and get up early because santa would come overnight and leave presents (a nice blending of old and new customs, Polish and American). That’s how I remember wigilia.
But as I said, I’ve never not celebrated it, either at Grandpa and Grandma’s (years ago), at Mom and Dad’s (as recently as a few years ago), at my sister Jean’s (when I lived in Milwaukee), or at my home. I’ve always had wigilia.
In more recent years, I’ve learned a lot more about it and spent more time preparing, more time being “authentic,” and more time putting my own spin on it. And this year I am especially blessed because a few of my second cousins will join us. How nice that is. With family and friends here, there will be 13 of us, quite a nice crowd.
We will start tonight with Krupnik which is a Polish honey and spice flavored liquor. I made it a few weeks ago. And the feast will begin, of course, with the sharing of the opłatek. Then we’ll have herring and bread as a first or appetizer course. That will be followed by my Barszcz Wigilijny z Uszkami–a vegetable broth based clear beet soup with mini pierogi stuffed with wild mushrooms from Poland. After that it’ll be on to the first of two main courses, the pierogi course. We made the pierogi two weeks ago, four types, Ruskie, Potato and cheese, Savory Cheese, and Saurkraut and Mushroom. Then it will be on the the second main course, the fish. Tonight I am Cedar Plank cooking a salmon filet (actually 1 1/2 filets). With that we’ll have a special (as in not the normal) green bean casserole and a Celery Root Slaw. Finally, we’ll retire to have some drinks and coffee and desserts, including poppy seed roll.
In the midst of all these courses, we’ll perhaps have a toast or two and a shot or two of Żubrówka or Lukusowa (vodka). And during all of this, I’ll be softly playing Kolędy and other Christmas music in the background, and on the TV I’ll have the Xbox showing my photos from Poland.
But we won’t be alone tonight, either. There will be more than 13 of us here, because all of my family, close and near, will be here as well, at least in thought and spirit. Last night I received some photos and Christmas greetings from my third cousin in Poland, Alicja–and I sent her a card earlier with a piece of opłatek, so her family will be here as well as mine there with her family tonight in Poland, celebrating wigilia. But all the rest of my family, close and far, will be there too. My folks and those living in Marshfield, will celebrate there. Much of my sister Jean’s family will celebrate at her home. And my nephew Justin and his wife will be celebrating with her family–and eating the pierogi they made for that event. And i know much more of my extended family is celebrating tonight too.
So, to all my family and friends, I wish you a healthy and happy Christmas and a joyous New Year, or in Polish, Życzę Ci zdrowych i wesołych Świąt Bożego Narodzenia oraz Szczęśliwego Nowego Roku!