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POLISH "WIGLIA" -- NOT JUST ANOTHER BOOZE-UP


Polonius3 1,000 | 12,446  
21 Dec 2008 /  #1
Non-Poles who have experienced a Wigilia with a tradition-minded Polish family are usually amazed, surprised or even moved, since they rarely have anything in their own realm of celebration that even comes close in terms of symbolism. To many outsiders the 24th is only the day before Christmas. To Poles and Polonians, Wigilia IS the main event! Almost everything about Wigilia is different, special, unique and unlike any other Polish celebration. Some examples:

–emergency workers (police, fire brigade, power station, hospital employees) willing work on the 25th or 26th Dec. if only they can get off on Wigilia and be with their nearest of kin;

-- family members have made a clean breast of things at confession and are all scrubbed and dressed in their holiday best;
-- the celebration does not begin until the evening's first star appears in the sky;
-- there is hay beneath the pure-white table cloth and an extra place setting for Baby Jesus, a recently deceased family member or a road-weary traveller who might happen by;

-- the meal begins with grace before meals and the sharing of opłatek (Christmas wafer) accompanied by an exchange of best wishes, forgiveness for past wrongs and tender embraces- a moving, nostalgic moment in many families who recall late-lamented family members and the Wigilias of their youth;

-- the meal comprises 12 or an odd number of meatless dishes dominated by fish, mushrooms, sauerkraut, pierogi and other farinaceous things, compote, poppyseeds honey, gingerbread, etc. many dishes served only on this one night a year;

-- although Poles are known for their fondness for tipples, this is one festive meal at which alcoholic drinks are absent or used only in great moderation, the occasion regarded as too solemn for any serious libation;

-- Wigilia lore includes such now largely tongue-in-cheek beliefs as: if the first non-family member to enter the house on Christmas Eve is a male, that brings good luck. Also, how you are on Christmas Eve you will be the whole year (a child that has to be spanked, well.....)

-- the evening includes singing kolędy (carols), exchanging gifts and Shepherds' Mass at midnight.
Naturally, not every Polish household observes all the points of celebration, but according to surveys 95% of Polish families have preserved the Wigilia tradition as such and regard it as the highpoint of teh Yule season.
VaFunkoolo 6 | 654  
21 Dec 2008 /  #2
Non-Poles who have experienced a Wigilia with a tradition-minded Polish family are usually amazed, surprised or even moved, since they rarely have anything in their own realm of celebration that even comes close in terms of symbolism.

What an absurd thing to say - many cultures place higher traditional importance to the celebrations of 24 December than 25, each in their own special way.

How many different cultures have you actually had the opportunity to experience this time of year's festive celebrations in?

Really, some of the things you write, P3...
OP Polonius3 1,000 | 12,446  
21 Dec 2008 /  #3
I'm always willing to learn, so dish out some examples. The French used to go to Midnight mass and then dig into a night of feasting called the Réveillon. Now most skip the mass and just pig out or go to church not for the relgious experience but as to a carol concert.

To many 'just plain Americans' Xmas Eve is only a day before Chrsitmas. Many of those who do celebrate Christmas Eve in different countries do it in a bacchic sort of way, where it isn't that different from other festivities. Now the Slovaks and Lithuanians come closest to celebrating a Polish-style Wigilia. But do you know of any other countriess where this is so high-key an event to the exlcusion of all others with all the customs, symols, rituals, lore and wanting to be with one's nearest of kin -- one that blends the three thigns Poles have cherished the most: God, homeland and family.
emily1126 - | 6  
30 Dec 2008 /  #4
-- the meal comprises 12 or an odd number of meatless dishes dominated by fish, mushrooms, sauerkraut, pierogi and other farinaceous things, compote, poppyseeds honey, gingerbread, etc. many dishes served only on this one night a year;
-- although Poles are known for their fondness for tipples, this is one festive meal at which alcoholic drinks are absent or used only in great moderation, the occasion regarded as too solemn for any serious libation;
-- Wigilia lore includes such now largely tongue-in-cheek beliefs as: if the first non-family member to enter the house on Christmas Eve is a male, that brings good luck. Also, how you are on Christmas Eve you will be the whole year (a child that has to be spanked, well.....)

Ok, you forgot Barscz as one of the staple dishes on Wigilia, in fact it is the one that I know to be the most important.

As for alcoholic drinks they are most DEFINITELY present during Wigilia with everyone toasting the birth of Jesus.

And the male and female good/bad luck deal is on New Years day and not Christmas Eve. I am Polish with my many friends and relatives that come directly from Poland and this is consistent among all of us. Have you celebrated Wigilia???
Seanus 15 | 19,706  
30 Dec 2008 /  #5
It may be a matter of preference. I've spent the last 2 Xmas periods here, so 2 Wigilias. I drank kompot with no alcohol. Alcohol just didn't feature at all but it would've been useful for toasting purposes.
emily1126 - | 6  
30 Dec 2008 /  #6
Now that I think about it could have been after midnight. We fasted except for opłatek until midnight mass and then came home and pretty much had a feast. So I guess it would qualify as Christmas Day and not Christmas Eve.
OP Polonius3 1,000 | 12,446  
30 Dec 2008 /  #7
Yes, I have attended wiiglia on both sides of the Talantic. There are myriad local variations. Some families serve no cakes only sweet dishes (kopot, kluski z makiem, kutia, etc.), whilst others bring out the piernik, sernik, keks, makowiec, strucle owocowe i migdałowe, babki, placki. even something called murzynek (little black boy -- no racialist implications itnended!).

In some families only mushroom soup is served, in others fish chowder, żur wigilijny and there are even sweet dessert soups such as zupa nic (nothing soup). Same with drinking, it is either subdied or on hold fro Wigilia, rarely comprable to New year's eve or even your garden variety imieniny.
osiol 55 | 3,922  
30 Dec 2008 /  #8
There's nothing here about breaking unleavened bread - the like of which is used in communion.
Shawn_H  
30 Dec 2008 /  #9
the meal begins with grace before meals and the sharing of opłatek

This is the unleavened bread. We sometimes get some included in Christmas cards.
osiol 55 | 3,922  
30 Dec 2008 /  #10
I think P3 was getting all misty-eyed about it all and forgot to explain himself. Either that or Christmas is making me lazy... or maybe I'm lazy enough as it is.
Shawn_H  
30 Dec 2008 /  #11
getting all misty-eyed

Maybe the onions in one of the twelve dishes....
Lori 4 | 118  
1 Jan 2009 /  #12
I began to understand something is different in Poland when children consistently tell me that Christmas is December 24. No U.S. school child would say that. In my family Christmas Eve and Christmas Day were somewhat the same for we would spend one day with one set of grandparents and all the aunts and uncles there, and then the other day with the other set of grandparents. Usually this would rotate the next year. Christmas Eve also is a time for a church service which usually includes a children's pageant portraying the Christmas story.

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