Poland is a land of intriguing traditions traditions and legends. So important is the first star of the night that Christmas Eve has been given the affectionate name of “little star” or “Gwiazdka,” in remembrance of the star of Bethlehem. On that night, all watch the sky anxiously, hoping to be the first to cry out, “The star!’ The moment the star appears, everyone exchanges greetings and good wishes. Families unite for the most carefully planned meal of the year, “Wigilia,” Christmas supper. According to tradition, bits of hay have been spread beneath the table cloth as a reminder that Christ was born in a manger. An even number of people must be seated around the table or tradition states someone might die in the coming year.
Although “Wigilia” is a family feast, it’s considered back luck to entertain a guest on this sacred night. In some places an empty place setting is left at the table in case a stranger should happen arrive.
Traditionally, there is no meat served during “Wigilia.” Still, the meal is plentiful and luxurious. It begins with the breaking of the “Oplatek,” a semi-transparent wafer of unleavened dough, stamped with scenes of the nativity. Everyone at the table breaks off a piece and eats it as a symbol of their unity with Christ. Custom prescribes that the number of dishes in the meal be odd, 9 or 11. An even number would eliminate any hope of an increase in wealth, children or anything desirable.
Though the dishes vary between regions, certain items are found almost everywhere. Poppy seed cake, beet soup, prune dumplings and noodles with poppy seed are universally Polish.
After supper, family and guests stay at the table until, at a signal from the host, they all rise in unison and leave. This is the result of an old belief that the first to rise will die before the next Christmas Eve. In some villages the peasants save the crumbs from this festive meal so they can sow them in the Spring. They are said to give medicinal power to the grasses upon which they are sprinkled.
The remainder of the evening is given to stories and songs around the Christmas tree. It is decorated with nuts, apples and ornaments made from eggshells, colored paper, straw, and painted. Christmas gifts are tucked below the tree. In some places, children are taught that “The Little Star” brings the gifts. As presents are wrapped, a rollers may float from house to house, receiving treats from tree and table. At midnight, the little ones are put to bed and the elders attend “Pasterka,” or Shepherd’s Mass.
Traditional Dishes From Poland…
Uszka Z Grzybami
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 cup cold water
1 egg, beaten
2 cups sifted flour
Make dough of the above ingredients and roll out on floured board. Cut into 3-inch squares. Place a teaspoon of stuffing (see recipe) on squares.
Fold diagonally into triangles. Press edges together. Fold triangle once more to form a “sow’s ear” and press edges together. Drop into salted boiling water. Cook for 10 minutes or until pockets float on top of water.
1 med. onion, chopped
2 tbls. butter
Salt and pepper
Mushrooms, cooked and chopped, which have been removed from vegetables broth in recipe above. Brown chopped onions in butter. Add breadcrumbs and fry for 2 minutes. Season to taste and mix with chopped mushrooms.
KLUSKI Z MAKIEM
(Noodles with Poppy Seeds)
3 tbls. poppy seeds
3 tbls. sugar
1 package wide noodles
2 tbls. butter
Scald poppy seeds with boiling water and soak for 3 hours. Drain. Force through food grinder and mix with sugar. Cook noodles in lightly salted water. Drain and rinse with cold water. Place in baking dish and heat in oven for several minutes. Mix with butter and poppy seeds and server hot.
(Sturgeon baked in sour cream.)
3 lbs. sturgeon
Dill and chopped parsley
2 eggs, beaten
1/4 lb. butter
Salt and pepper
2 tbls. bouillon
1 cup sour cream
Cut fish into serving portions and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roll slices in flour, dip in beaten egg, and coat with breadcrumbs. Fry in butter until nicely browned on both sides. place fish in baking dish. Sprinkle with dill and chopped parsley.
Add 2 tbls. of bouillon and 2 tbls. of flour to left-over butter in frying pan. Stir well. Bring to boil over low flame. Remove from fire and add sour cream. Stir thoroughly. Pour mixture over fish and bake in moderate oven for 10-15 minutes.