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Christmas in Poland

Wigilia Christmas eve in Poland

The typical Christmas Eve pre-dinner custom of the breaking and sharing of a special rice wafer and offering good wishes for the year ahead. Similar scenes can be witnessed in flats (apartments) and houses all over Poland as soon as the first star appears in the sky on the 24th of December.

On Christmas Eve in Poland most households observe a strict 24-hour fast known as Wigilia. This Polish tradition ends with a huge meatfree Christmas feast. The meal consists of twelve courses or dishes, one for each Apostle. The table is covered with the best white tablecloth and always set with one extra seat in case a stranger or the Holy Spirit should arrive to share the meal. Some Polish families spread bits of hay underneath the table cloth as a reminder that Christ was born in a manger.

The actual Christmas dishes vary between regions and families, but certain items are found almost everywhere. The most important and essential part of the food eaten on Christmas Eve is fried carp. Other dishes include: beetroot soup served with tiny dumplings called "uszka" (ears) filled with Borowiki (wild mushrooms); pierogi stuffed with sauerkraut and mushrooms; various fish and salad dishes; paszteciki (pasties) stuffed with mushrooms, spinach or cheese; and pasta with poppy seed. Compote (a kind of warm fruit juice) is the drink of choice. More about food in Poland.

Unlike in most western households Christmas presents are exchanged after the meal on Christmas Eve, rather than on the morning of Christmas day. Many families finish off Christmas Day by attending a special Christmas mass called "pasterka" at midnight in the church. Christmas day (the 25th) is much like a normal Sunday in Poland and something of a anti-climax after all the excitement of Christmas Eve.

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