Wigilia – A Polish Christmas Eve

Another Christmas has come and gone…I hope you all had an enjoyable time. It’s been wonderful to relax, see family and friends and of course, enjoy plenty of good food and cheer. Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas for me without starting it all off with a Polish Christmas Eve meal at home with my family. My mother spends almost the whole week preparing and cooking for Christmas Eve – traditionally known as Wigilia, or the Vigil meal – (from the Latin term vigilare meaning “to await”)

It is a meal full of symbolism, for example, we always set an extra place at the table for the unknown visitor (it’s amazing how someone always knocks at the door during the meal and this year was no exception!) we lay hay under the tablecloth to represent the manger, we eat when we see the first star and we begin our twelve course meal (representing the twelve apostles) by breaking bread or a wafer called Opłatek and exchanging good wishes.

Wigilia Christmas Eve

During this meal, no meat is eaten – all the courses are either fish or vegetarian dishes, such as Barszcz (beetroot soup) Uszka (mushroom filled dumplings) Szledzie (cured or pickled herrings alongside smoked salmon) Ryba (fish, traditionally carp, although any white fish can be eaten) Pierogi (dumplings filled with cream cheese and potato, or sauerkraut and mushrooms) and then desserts, Sernik (Polish baked cheesecake) and Makowiec (Poppy Seed Cake). Other courses could include Kompot, compote made with dried fruit, salads, stuffed cabbage parcels and noodles with poppy seeds. After the meal, Christmas carols are sung and then we usually make our way to Midnight mass, called Pasterka or “the Mass of the Shepherds.”

Pierogi Ruskie

Polish Pierogi – dumplings filled with cream cheese and potato 

I always feel incredibly lucky to be able to celebrate and mark this Polish tradition with my family. And, we are fortunate to be able to spend Christmas Eve with my Polish side of the family and Christmas Day with my husband’s side of the family – so there are never any arguments about where to spend Christmas. Christmas Day involved a sumptuous roast turkey and gammon lunch, with all the trimmings, rounded off with two Christmas puddings!

I’d love to know what your Christmas traditions are and how you celebrated…I’m guessing it won’t have involved herrings or beetroot soup…!

Find my Polish recipes at My Polish Kitchen

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  1. Finding you writing about Polish traditions and recipes very interesting. I am a British food fanatic, married to a Polish girl, not living in Poland. Your Christmas eve dinner sounds a lot like the one we had at my mother in laws last year. I also have a food projects blog where I write about my bread, other recipes and other food projects. We are currently building a wood fired oven to bake bread for our village. Enjoying your blog..


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  5. While surfing the web for a lenten stuffed cabbage, I came upon your Polish Christmas Eve entry. It brings back memories. We always have Pierogis on that night, but my mother remembers a stuffed cabbage that had a potato/rice? mixture and it did not have the traditional tomato sauce of a golumpki, but might have been fried in butter. Since you mentioned stuffed cabbage, was it a meatless type? If so, how is yours made? Thanks.

  6. I like the sound of your Polish christmas, I really love pickled or cured fish like herring, we are supposed to eat pickled herring on fridays here in Belgium. Merry christmas and a happy 2013 to you xxx

    1. Thank you Regula, looking forward to working with you this year! All the best to 2013, here’s to pickled herrings!

  7. Sounds so atmospheric! I don’t think I’ve ever had an unexpected visitor on New Year’s Eve but then if word got around you had laid on a spread like this then it doesn’t surprise me they come to your house instead! Happy New Year xx

    1. It’s always unexpected and one year we had a whole extra family turn up, too! xx

  8. How lovely, Ren, this sounds wonderful. It must be lovely for your children to experience, too!

    Wishing you a happy new year, Charlotte x

    1. Thank you Charlotte, all the best and a very exciting year for you to come after all the hard work at the end of 2012 xx

  9. Your children are lucky too – this is how I grew up…with two Christmas occasions. It spread the excitement over two days plus we spent it will both sides of our family. Really love this post Ren. Happy New Year.

    1. Yes, although they find it hard to get their heads around all the beetroot, but they like the fish and are starting to like the pierogi, too! xxx

  10. I’m impressed that your family still preserves these ancient traditions, and manages to recognise the religious significance of Christmas too – something which has mostly been lost to outright commercialism and shopping frenzies. I’m not a religious person, but I love Christmas because it brings families together, even when they may not see each other very often at other times of the year.
    Our Christmas fare is very traditional British – roast turkey, cranberry sauce, bread sauce, sage-and-onion stuffing, gravy, loads of veg, and then Christmas pudding (with a fruit jelly option for those who are flagging by this stage). We have roast Gammon Ham on Boxing Day. Mince pies and Christmas fruit cake for tea. Phew!

    1. Liz Thomas says:

      That sounds like a really lovely Christmas and the best of both worlds! We have a Polish friend in France so we occasionally get to try some Polish treats when we are over there.

      We normally go away, usually Thailand, but not this year so we had the traditional. I brined the turkey A La Nigella (a terrific recipe) and we had the usual sprouts, chestnuts and roast potatoes, just a small gathering with three other waifs and strays like ourselves with nowhere to go!

      We had a good time though. I will be emailing you separately with the outsome of the “Other” Turkey Saga !!

      Cheers and Happy New Year


      1. I got your email, what a real saga! Hope you are all well. Happy New Year and hope you enjoy the turkey at some point soon! x

    2. Thanks Mark, although I am guessing all that fish wouldn’t be to your taste!

  11. No herrings, but I did home cure some trout, my first home cure, which we served as the starter for our Christmas day meal. We tend to have a light breakfast, then spend at least two hours opening presents — one at a time so everyone can see everyone else’s reactions and gifts. Then the starter, a gap, the main, a longer gap, dessert and then the cheeseboard doesn’t come out until last thing before bed!!

    1. Ooh cured trout, I bet that was really lovely – a delicate flavour I’d imagine. We get to open some of our presents on Christmas Eve and then the rest on Christmas Day..I bet your cheeseboard was tasty, too!

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