Wigilia, literally meaning "vigil," is the main focus of Polish Christmas. After a day of fasting (and sneaking snacks), the twelve course meal is to begin when the first star appears in the sky. Other historical traditions include hay under the table cloth, breaking of the oplatki wafer and exchanges of wishes for good health, long life and prosperity. Setting an extra place setting honors and remembers loved ones who have passed on, and it is customary just in case there is an extra guest that shows to make them feel more than welcome. The twelve courses represent the twelve apostles or twelves months of the year, and would include mushrooms, potatoes, pickled herring, fish, pierogi, wheat, sauerkraut, dried fruit compote, and other assorted desserts, nuts and candies.
I vividly remember my Grandpa Pitura sitting at the head of our table and starting his meal with jellied jack fish, while the rest of us ate buns, kutia, pickled herring, and salad. Then came the pierogi (potato and sauerkraut) pickerel, creamed mushrooms, cabbage rolls, and other vegetables.
After a few days of preparation, here is our Christmas Eve Menu that we'll be enjoying this year (...all twelve courses!):
Escargot a la Cream Cheese
Holopchi Cabbage Rolls
May your Christmas gatherings be filled with joy, warmth and your own special traditions!