Thursday, January 3, 2008


Finally back from vacation and so much to write about, which always leaves me wanting to write nothing and wait for something new to happen. But I think it's necessary that I write about Wigilia, which is so totally awesome and won't come around until next Christmas Eve. I can hardly be called a Catholic, but I'm fascinated by Catholic culture, especially in its Mexican and Polish forms. I ascribe to the latter, particularly, since half of my family are Polish Catholics. My mother was born in Poland but raised in the United States, and has kept up with some of the major traditions. Wigilia (pronounced Vigilia) is our best holiday as far as I'm concerned, more important than Christmas day for Poles, who believe that what you do on Wigilia will predict the rest of your year. Here are some cool things I found out about Wigilia from Polish Customs, Traditions and Folklore, by Mary Knab:
Fir tree branches were placed over the door of houses and barns to dispel evil and sickness, or even placed in the cow poop to dispel wolves.
Everyone in the family would race to cut off the tip of the Christmas tree (a fir) and this tip would be hung pointing down over the dinner table.
The first person to enter the house on Wigilia was considered as an auger of things to come. If a man walked in first, the cows would have bulls and if a woman, heifers. "Subsequently, women were much in favor and sometimes great lengths were undertaken to assure the arrival of a woman." Keen.

We always eat oplatek (pronounced opwatek) before the meal, which we break into pieces and give to family members with a wish for the new year.

The menu is pretty much the same all over Poland, with some variation, and it's always the same for us, give or take a plate of gravlax. In our household it was always pierogi (stuffed with potatoes and sauerkraut), the most incredible mushroom soup, sides of fish (usually smoked mackerel and herring in sauce), followed up by compote. In Poland this would be an eight course dinner, for us it's typically three.

This year my mom came up to Pennsylvania to have Wigilia with Dan and his family, which was really lovely. We made pierogi together, me kneading and rolling the dough until my hands were red and barely motile, my mom saying "it's not thin enough! keep rolling!" (the trick is to roll it out, cut them into squares, then roll the damn squares until they're paper thin), then heated up all the comestibles she'd brought up.

Like I said, I may not be the best Catholic (understatement!), or the best Pole (my grandmother asks me every time I visit her when I'm going to learn Polish...), but Wigilia will always be a fixture for me.

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