The Polish Christmas has a special charm and in these regions, where the cold and snow arrive in the early days of winter, it is easy to see the traditional roofs and whitewashed the snowmen we have so often seen on postcards or in the movies. The feast of Christmas is called in Polish Boże Narodzenie and is considered a special time for families, by both Christians and by whom it is not, where is also the custom to walk great distances to reunite with their loved ones who are away during the year.
Christmas Eve in Poland is called Wigilia. The Latin origins of the word Wigilia are the same as those of the English word “vigil,” meaning keeping watch in expectation of something. Of course, what the Christian world awaits on this date is the birth of Jesus, the Christ Child. The Catholic custom is that of attending midnight Mass or “Pasterka,” a name that comes from “pasterze” the Polish word for shepherds who, according to the evangelists, were the first to greet the New Born King.
In Poland in common parlance, Christmas is referred to as “Gwiazdka,” or little star. And it is the appearance of the first star in the eastern sky that Polish children await most eagerly on Christmas Eve. This is because this evocation of the Star of Bethlehem signals that the Wigilia festivities can start
n the days of the Soviet Union, Christmas was not celebrated very much. New Year was the important time. Now Christmas is celebrated normally on the January 7th (only a few Catholics might celebrate it on the 25th December). The date is different because the Russian Orthodox church uses the old ‘Julian’ calendar for religious celebration days. The Orthodox Church also celebrates Advent. But it has fixed dates, starting on 28th November and going to the 6th January, so it’s 40 days long.The official Christmas and New holidays in Russia last from December 31st to January 10th. The Russian Christmas greeting is ‘S Rozhdestvom!’.
Some people fast (don’t eat anything) on Christmas Eve, until the first star has appeared in the sky. People then eat ‘sochivo’ or ‘kutia’ a porridge made from wheat or rice served with honey, poppy seeds, fruit (especially berries and dried fruit like raisins), chopped walnuts or sometimes even fruit jellies!
Kutia is sometimes eaten from one common bowl, this symbolizes unity. In the past, some families like to throw a spoonful of sochivo up on the ceiling. If it stuck to the ceiling, some people thought it meant they would have good luck and would have a good harvest!
The Russian word for Christmas Eve ‘sochelnik’, comes from the word ‘sochivo’.
Some Orthodox Christian Russian also don’t eat any meat or fish during the Christmas Eve meal/feast.
Other popular Christmas Eve foods include beetroot soup (borsch) or vegan potluck (solyanka) served with individual vegetable pies (often made with cabbage, potato, or mushroom); salads often made from vegetables like gherkins, mushrooms or tomatoes, and also potato or other root vegetable salads.
Sauerkraut is main dish in the Christmas Eve meal. It can be served with cranberries, cumin, shredded carrot and onion rings. It might be followed by more pies or porridge dishes such as buckwheat with fried onions and fried mushrooms.
Dessert is often things like fruit pies, gingerbread and honeybread cookies and fresh and dried fruit and more nuts.
‘Vzvar’ (meaning ‘boil-up’) is often the end of the meal. It’s a sweet drink made from dried fruit and honey boiled in water. Vzvar is traditionally at the birth of a child, so at Christmas it symbolizes the birth of the baby Jesus.
Following the meal, prayers might be said and people then go to the midnight Church services. They often don’t wash the dishes until they get home from Church – sometimes not until 4.00am or 5.00am!
The New Year celebrations are still very important to Russians (sometimes more than Christmas).
This is when – when ‘Father Frost’ (known in Russian as ‘Ded Moroz‘ or Дед Мороз) brings presents to children. He is always accompanied by his Grandaughter (Snegurochka). On New Year’s eve children hold hands, make a circle around the Christmas tree and call for Snegurochka or Ded Moroz. When they appear the star and other lights on the Christmas tree light up! Ded Moroz carries a big magic staff. The traditional greeting for Happy New Year is ‘S Novym Godom’.
Even though it’s not Christmas, it should always
be in our hearts
Something to reflect on.