Christmas in Poland in some points probably looks like in other countries, in others it deffers. We decorate Christmas tree, buy gifts… *cough*… Santa brings gifts and we fest on Christmas Eve together with the whole family. But of course, we can’t start eating before the first star shines! And even before we sit by the table, we share an “opłatek” between us, wishing each person all the best in the coming year. “Opłatek” looks like the Host and tastes like it, but it’s not the same thing. We also share it with friends before Christmas and we send it together with Christmas cards. People in the country also share “opłatek” with animals, but only these which are believed to have been in the stable where the baby Jesus was born. It is also believed that these animals can talk this one night in the year. As far as I know we are the only country that has this tradition (let me know if I’m wrong :) )
All right, we shared an “opłatek”, now we can sit and start eating. On the table, under the cloth we put some hay (as baby Jesus was lying on the hay after being born) and we leave one empty place by the table for an unexpected guest. We have 12 traditional dishes (like 12 Apostoles). The “must be’s” are:
• Borsht (beetroot soup) with little dumplings filled with mushrooms. The dumplings are called “uszka” which means “little ears”. Probably the name is because of their shape :)
• Pierogi with sauerkraut and mushrooms. Or some other filling but on Christmas Eve this one is the most popular.
• Fish in jelly.
• Kutia, which is a sweet meal made of wheat, poppy seeds, honey and all sorts of nuts and raisins. We don’t prepare it in my home, but this is a typical traditional dish that is prepared specifically for Christmas.
As you noticed, there’s no red meat or birds. Meat, excluding fish, is not eaten on Christmas Eve at all.
That day we also get presents. We don’t wait till Christmas Day. If there are no kids in the family there’s no problem with gifts. But if there are children, someone must pretend Santa for a while or get the attention of kids somewhere else and then put the presents under the tree. When I was a kid my grandpa always went outside and knocked in the window. Me and my cousins were running to see Santa (who disappeared too quickly) and at that time the rest of the adults put the gifts under the tree. I need to mention that “our” Santa comes from Lapland – in Finland, not from the North Pole or Coca-Cola factories.
At 12 o clock at night there is a mass in church, were people also share “opłatek” with strangers. Then we have two (not just one) days of Christmas. Time for rest after all the preparations and to watch Home Alone ;P