Christmas (Boże Narodzenie in Polish) is probably the biggest time of the year in Poland. Here, Christmas lasts 2 days, 25th & 26th, but the 24th, Chrismas Eve so, is the most important day of the year. It’s called Wygilia. That day we do not eat meat at all, actually we are only allowed to eat one meal that day, but when the evening comes, when the first star appears in the sky, we can start the Chrismas Eve dinner, still without meat. The menu usually includes 12 different courses. We must try all of them to have happiness throughout the following year. In addition to that, normally, no alcohol should be served during that dinner, normally!
The most common ingredients used for that dinner are fish (traditionally carp), poppy seeds, dried fruits, beans, peas, wheat and mushrooms.
But we do not start to eat yet, first we have to say a little prayer and then we share the opłtek (ie an host) by wishing one another a happy future and that all wishes come true in the new year.
Animals are also supposed to speak the language of humans that evening… So we must also share the opłtek with them. In my parents house, there is no pets, so I can’t confirm if it’s true. And as we always let our cat at home, nobody will ever know!
After sharing the opłatek, we finally sit down and start the Chrismas Eve dinner!
There is always a soup, and in our family, it’s always a beetroot soup (borsch) with small pierogis filled with cabbage and mushrooms (uszka), but you can as well have a mushroom soup, an almond soup and a sour soup (żurek).
Carp is the traditional fish we serve for Xmas (you should see the very long queue in the shops to buy such a fish!). There are lots of recipes, in fact it will depend on the region you’re living in. Carp jew style, panfried, stuffed, in jelly…
As meat is forbidden that evening, it’s a succession of fish dishes, salads and vegetables. At home, we mostly have filet of herrings in sour cream, cod greek style, cabbage with mushrooms or peas, pierogis with cabbage and mushrooms (these ones are bigger than the ones we serve with the barszcz). The main courses vary by region and local traditions.
This year we also have some very nice smoked eels and trouts I found at a local fish maker at the Hel peninsula.
At the end of the dinner, of course we have desserts! Generally, in Poland, you will have a lot of them. Mainly based on poppy seeds. There is the traditional makowiec (a kind of rolled cake with lots of poppy seeds inside), cakes with walnuts and dried fruits, sernik (cheesecake), and also kutia and łamańce. The first is made of wheat, poppy seeds, honey, dried fruits and walnuts, while for the second one, we replace the wheat by some kind of patties (made of flour and water and dried in the oven) and shredded into pieces.
It’s sooooooo good!
With all that we drink a dried fruit compote. I must tell you that here, in Poland, compote is a drink, unlike France where compote is a kind of thick fruit puree.
And while we are eating the desserts, we also open the Xmas presents. This is the moment everyone was waiting for!!!
At the end of the dinner, to help digestion, we serve a dessert made of cranberry, it’s a kind of sweet and sour jelly.
The next day, for Xmas day so, we are finally allowed to eat meat, and there is plenty of it! Besides, we spend the whole day eating, from morning 10:00 to 5:00 – 6:00 pm!
We have roasted pork stuffed with dried fruits (this year, it’s me who did it, stuffed with figs!), roasted ham, roasted pork belly, homemade pate, and sometimes roasted sausages.
Of course, we also have salads.
For dinner, we could have turkey or duck, served with bigos, which is a kind of panfried white cabbage with mushrooms.
Actually, we spend the whole 2 Xmas days eating. Except this year, we decided to have the second day of Xmas in our place. My husband being French, we wanted to celebrate it the French way as well, with different courses than the traditional Polish Xmas dishes.
Written by Olga Kulczynska-Chauvet