Updated: Feb 2, 2019
I remember my kid sister, asking one December 24: Is this the day of fast and wait until the first star appears in the evening sky so then I may eat to my fill?
It is true, Polish seasonal holidays are associated with eating up all food on the table, but you definitively refuse the special importance of celebrating Christmas Eve. It is the most family, joyful , magic day of the year. The numerous symbols and rituals are a reflection of our Polish customs.
I have been living in the Netherlands for many years now. Here, the signs of the coming Christmas are the numerous ad leafleats in the mailbox advertising mainly fireworks and expensive but not particularly tasety ready made food sold in grams and slices. Although something different than the flagship dish of the Netherlands – stamppot, though I am afraid that the lack of it on the Christmas table would make a lot of the Duch feel embarassed...
Refinement is not really a feature of the Dutch cuisine. You will not find spicy smells of seasonal food being prepared wafted through the neighborhood, the TV offer boredom, cheap American Christmas productions and promo shows on every channel. Simply a holiday flop.
Nevertheless, my over thirty Christmases spent in Poland and a few well-stocked Polish (specialities) local stores in the area will allow me to prepare the seasonal holidays that I remember - the Polish way…
In Poland, the greatest importance is into the family meeting at the Christmas table, for the sake of making home food and feasting. It is also the supreme test of culinary abilities of the lady of the house as men, true enough, deal only with decorating the Christmas tree.
The Christmas Eve supper, the most important one of the year, is generally meatless, a fast meal. You will find the products of forests, fields, gardens, rivers and ponds. Polish cuisine is meat based, so it would seem impossible to give a table of twelve (according to tradition) vegetarian dishes. But Poles can do it! :)
On the Christmas Eve table you will find, the king and queen of supper: carp and beetroot borscht with dumplings. Carp, a freshwater fish prepared in many different ways is a fish that I would not serve on another day of the year. It tastes delicious on that night; a second helping is absolutely necessary! And my daughter, born in the Netherlands and brought up on frikandels, cannot wait till the “red borscht” is served. The homemade dumplings with forest mushrooms stuffing in the soup became her favourite dish and became a great culinary experience for the “ready to eat” generations…
Other dish I remember from childhood, from the festive table of mother and grandma’s home are the dumplings with cabbage and mushrooms, festive cabbage with mushrooms, herrings, kutia, vegetable salad, eggs in mayonnaise, homemade gingerbread, and cheesecake.
And all different dishes with poppy seeds, which probably due to the presence of coffee shops in the Netherlands are not found at all :).
If your motto is "try before you die", you are invited to Polish special square noodles with poppy seeds and nuts, very sweet and amazing in taste.
As I have already mentioned, the Polish Christmas Eve is full of tradition.
The solemn mood of the evening is reflected by the way the table is prepared and laid out, the house that has been thoroughly tidied up and the special and elegant dress is a must.
The evening begins with a prayer and reading of the gospel about the birth of Jesus, the singing of carols and the sharing of sacramental bread (wafer) with special wishes to everyone gathered at the table.
For me, perhaps the most moving moment. It is a moment to express feelings and emotions that we never had time or courage to express or there was no special time...
There are also presents under the Christmas tree. In the Netherlands, the custom of giving presents on Christmas Eve is rather unknown. Mostly because all energy, and salary vanishes on the pakjesavond, December 5, or Sinterklas. My children, although born in the Netherlands, are probably tired of this Dutch saint and his black servants (Zwarte Piet) and the political discussion accompanying them.
And, to my delight they want their presents found under the Christmas tree, naturally only for the well behaved children :)
Christmas Eve is full of extravagance. We still feel it is advisable not to argue that day, especially at the table, and show each other kindness.
The tradition of trying the twelve Christmas Eve dishes should provide their plenty during the upcoming year. Alcohol should not be consumed (dinner last only a few hours :).
In addition to Christmas dishes and tuners, there should be a bundle of hay under the tablecloth, the symbol of Jesus born in the stable.
And there is an empty plate set out for the unexpected comer, a symbol of solidarity with people who are celebrating their holidays in solitude and the readiness to welcome a stray guest for Christmas supper. It is also to remind your close, who for various reasons cannot be present at the Christmas Eve supper. This special Polish tradition makes my worldwide friends very, very emotional.
The widespread belief is, not only in my family home, that animals talk on that special night. We have a cat, so every year we wait and wait and wait…
Absolutely obligatory for the traditionalists is a shepherdess (pasterka), a special midnight mass in every Polish church. It is full of magic and expectancy for the coming year. It starts with deposition of the little Jesus child in the crib. The patriotic and uniting hymn “God save Poland” is performed and the gathered feel united with their fellowmen and faith, the one true and right case.
After the midnight mass, it is time for a feast without limitations. The fast ends and the “afters” begins. Prepared a few hours earlier, the roasted ham, pork, duck served with grated beetroot and radish on a cold December evening compares with nothing else. On top of it all, imagine a homemade raspberry liquor and if it is not a delight for the palate and soul and the introduction to the next few days of celebration.
I wish you all a family spirit and carefree holidays, so that the Christmas Eve will be happy and merry. And remember about the empty plate and extra chair at the table in every Polish home. Everybody's welcome!
Here is my favourite Christmas song from Poland:
Jest taki dzień, bardzo ciepły, choć grudniowy Dzień, zwykły dzień, w którym gasną wszelkie spory Jest taki dzień, w którym radość wita wszystkich Dzień, który już każdy z nas zna od kołyski
Niebo ziemi, niebu ziemia Wszyscy wszystkim ślą życzenia Drzewa ptakom, ptaki drzewom Tchnienie wiatru płatkom śniegu
Jest taki dzień, tylko jeden raz do roku Dzień, zwykły dzień, który liczy się od zmroku Jest taki dzień, gdy jesteśmy wszyscy razem Dzień, piękny dzień, dziś nam rok go składa w darze
Niebo ziemi, niebu ziemia Wszyscy wszystkim ślą życzenia A gdy wszyscy usną wreszcie Noc igliwia zapach niesie