This weekend, my husband and I celebrated an early Wigilia with friends.

Wigilia, meaning vigil, is a traditional Polish Christmas Eve celebration. Every holiday season, my mother who immigrated to North America from Poland, would prepare this traditional meal for my family. I have fond memories of decorating the house and preparing the food for this traditional feast. After getting married about 5 years ago, my mom put together a little book for my sister and me which explains the tradition and includes translated recipes for the 5 course meal.

In my mother’s words, here’s her explanation of this Polish tradition:

Wigilia take place on Christmas Eve. It is traditionally a vegetarian meal where no meat is served. There are “supposed” to be twelve dishes or items to symbolize the 12 apostles. The table is festively set and an extra plate is set for some traveler that does not make it home for the holidays. The dishes are traditional and are the same from year to year as far as the availability of ingredients.

Traditionally the Christmas tree was put up and decorated that morning. The children would set the table and wait for the first star to appear. Then the feast would begin, The family would gather around the Christmas tree. The mother or father would read the story of the first Christmas and the meaning of the oplatek (an unleavend wafer). After the blessing the father starts with the oplatek and passes it to all gathered. Each person then breaks the oplatek with one another and wishes all the best for Christmas and coming New Year. The family then sits down at the table for the meal.

After the meal, the family would take a break and sit down to sing Christmas carols. Later coffee, or tea is served with Makowiec (poppyseed roll) and other desserts. The family would then open their presents and attend midnight mass to close the Wigilia celebration.

The following courses are all based on my mom’s recipes. Instead of preparing 12 courses, my mom would typically prepare 5:

  • Course 1 | Sledz (herring in wine sauce or sour cream) served with fresh bread and butter
  • Course 2Ryba and Kapusta (white fish and sauerkraut)
  • Course 3Barszcz and Uszka (beet soup and mushroom dumplings)
  • Course 4Kompot (fruit stew)
  • Course 5Makowiec (poppyseed roll)