Dedicated to Pan Atch(-ski?)
Polish Christmas Eve
'Twas the day before Christmas - the house was astir,
Tatuś had brought home a ceiling-high fir.
It filled our whole house with a nice woodsy scent,
After setting it up, again off he went.
From the kitchen there wafted those Christmas Eve savors.
They made our mouths water for once-a-year flavors.
Babcia sliced noodles from the dough she made best,
Round the bread-board she tossed them to give them a rest.
Dziadzio cleaned fish and, when there were no more,
Went on to help with the next Christmas chore.
With a bowl 'twixt his legs Janek sat on the floor,
Crushing the poppyseeds his back to the door.
The mushrooms had soaked and now could be cooked,
The uszka would taste just as good as they looked.
The finished pierogi were arrayed and all ready
To be cooked in a pot boiling ever so steady.
Mama laced herring with onions and cream
And started preparing the carp, pike and bream.
Teenage Krystyna was trimming the tree
Behind a locked door so Ola couldn't see.
She wanted to keep it a special surprise
To see the excitement in her sister's eyes.
One by one later they slipped from the home
To go to confession, repent and atone.
For nothing today should be blemished or soiled.
Both body and soul must be cleansed and unspoiled.
So as evening approached they all bathed and dressed
And chose from their wardrobes their holiday best.
In the window stood Ola her gaze fixed on far,
Trying to spot the evening's first star.
She silently wondered there as she stood
Whether today she had been extra good.
For Babcia had told her: 'Oleńka my dear,
How you are on Wigilia you'll be the whole year!'
The table was laid - what a sight to behold!
That once-a-year ritual soon would unfold.
The top had been strewn with a handful of hay
In memory of Jesus and the bed where he lay.
A table-cloth followed - pure snowy-white
The only kind suited for this wondrous night.
It was an old heirloom all trimmed with lace.
And at the table there was one extra place
For some lonely, poor traveler who night knock on the door,
Hungry and weary and chilled to the core.
On a plate on the table amid fir sprigs and hay
A snowy-white wafer majestically lay.
Dziadzio took it and blessed it and broke it two,
Giving one piece to Babcia with feelings so true:
'I wish you, Mamusiu, God's very best,
With joy and good health may you always be blessed.'
Babcia wished him the same and the two of them then
Extended to all those warm wishes again.
We all shared opłatek, shared wishes and kissed,
Assuring that no family member be missed.
During that moment so tender and dear
In more than one eye there glistened a tear
For the dearly departed and those who were far
And could not break bread on the Feast of the Star.
There appeared on the table a covered tureen,
Its savory fragrance betrayed soup unseen.
Within was the barszcz ruby-red and so clear
With floating small dumplings - each shaped like an ear.
Next came the herring with crusty rye bread
Or boiled potatoes which some liked instead.
There were three kinds of fish and kapusta with peas,
Pierogi with cabbage, potatoes and cheese.
Although this alone was more than enough,
Next came the sweet things - such wonderful stuff!
Poppyseed noodles, stewed raisins and prunes,
All you could hear was the clatter of spoons.
Then came makowiec, that fine Wilia cake,
So luscious as only our Babcia could bake.
Piernik and keks, figs, dates and nuts.
'You must sample each with no ifs or buts!'
When we'd eaten our fill and had room for no more,
Someone rose from he table and flung open the door.
There in the parlor all ashimmer and aglow
Glistened the tree as if sprinkled with snow.
Its ornaments sparkled in the tapers' gold light,
Bringing radiance and warmth on this cold winter's night.
Then all of a sudden we heard a loud knock.
It was Święty Mikołaj rattling the lock.
His white beard was bushy, his cheeks cherry-red,
And a gold bishop's miter was gracing his head.
His long robe brought with it a gust frosty cold.
'Niech będzie pochwalony...' came his greeting of old.
We youngsters were quizzed on our good deeds and prayers,
While our puzzled dog Kajtek just whined on the stairs.
St Nick passed out presents as he sat by the tree,
Filling us youngsters with rapture and glee.
When he left there resounded a familiar old chord
On Dziadzia's accordion in praise of the Lord:
'Wśród nocnej ciszy' and 'Lulajże' too
Were sung with great fervor as Poles always do.
Since 'Dzisiaj w Betlejem' was the favorite of most,
Dziadzia played in again - a most amiable host.
By now it was late and soon Babcia said:
'It's time for Pasterka - Oleńka to bed!'
She needed some coaxing, at last she gave in,
To much excitement this long day had been.
All bundled up we then trudged through the cold
To hear the nativity story retold.
Pasterka was glorious and always has been,
A Mass that awakens the goodness in men.
And that more or less is the end of our poem,
For after Pasterka we all returned home.
May the joy of Wigilia, so Polish and dear
Fill you and your family throughout the New Year.