Polish Christmas Eve Supper (Wigilia) Recipes


Wigilia, from the Latin term "vigil," is the main focus of Polish Christmas. This meatless Christmas Eve meal, also known as the Star Supper, doesn't begin until the first star appears in the sky.

Not a morsel of food is eaten until every member of the family has broken the opłatek with each other and exchanged wishes for good health, long life, and prosperity. Opłatki are rectangular-shaped Communion-like wafers embossed with the nativity scene or other images.

The supper is a big deal in Polish tradition and requires special attention in creating several dishes. Some families make 12 dishes, each one representing an apostle in the Catholic tradition, but most offer an array of several delicious dishes that are meant to share. The Polish proverb "Jak będzie Wigilia, tak będzie caly rok" sums it up: "As is wigilia, so is the entire year," so a bountiful and generous display of food is a good omen for the year to come.

Traditions say it's necessary to offer dishes coming from the four corners of the earth: sea, forest, field, and orchard. So you'll find fruit from the orchard, fish from the sea, potatoes from the field and mushrooms from the forest.

  • 01 of 07

    Appetizers

    Herriong Rollmops
    © Jargen Wiesler / Getty Images

    Choose from a variety of fish appetizers, like creamed herring with potatoes, apples, and sour cream. Or a tangy rolmopsyherring fillets stuffed with pickled onion and mushrooms.

    Go for a hearty starter with this creamy salmon served with raw vegetables. For a fancier experience, select a variety of caviar and make a spread offering lemon wedges, sour cream, minced onions, hardboiled eggs (whites and yolks chopped separately) and unsalted crackers or toast.

    Pickled beets, any vegetable coming from the field, and pickled mushrooms from the forest are important components.

  • 02 of 07

    Soup

    Polish Mushroom Soup

    Barbara Rolek 

    After the appetizers comes the soup course. The most common is borscht, a red beet soup soured with either kwas (a fermented beverage made out of bread or vegetables), lemon juice, or vinegar. The soup is brimming with boiled potatoes or mushroom-filled "little-ear" dumplings called uszka.

    Sour mushroom-barley soup is a good alternative, and even better if you can find kluski noodles to serve the soup with.

  • 03 of 07

    Fish

    Breaded fish fillets
    Philippe Desnerck / Getty Images

    Wigilia is a meat-less celebration because people want to remember all the animals that kept Jesus warm when born. Thus the fish becoming the main course.

    Freshwater fish, usually whitefish, carp, lake perch, trout, or pike are served whole or filleted. Breading and pan-frying is a preferred cooking method, but fishes can be poached or baked, and glazed with aspic, depending on family traditions.

    A simply prepared tilapia or a more elaborate fish in red sauce are also great additions to the holiday meal.

  • 04 of 07

    Grains and Cereals

    Challah with Poppy Seeds
    Freshly baked Challah topped with poppy seeds. Credit: Mitch Hrdlicka/Getty Images

    In Poland, housewives save the finest wheat flour for breads and noodles for Christmas Eve. Depending on the region and preferences, that might mean paluszki (long, thin finger-dumplings with poppy seeds), noodles with poppy seeds known as kluski z makiem, or noodles with stewed fruit or jam. Most meals are accompanied by rye bread or chałka (pictured here), an egg twist bread. In Eastern Poland, they serve a dish known as kutia, consisting of wheat berries, poppy seeds, honey, and nuts.

    Grains often eaten on Christmas Eve include barley, buckwheat groats, kasha, and boiled rice with browned butter, cinnamon, and sugar.

    Get your fill of rice, mushrooms, and vegetables in meatless cabbage rolls. And frequently, pierogi with a mushroom-sauerkraut or savory cheese filling steal the show.

    Continue to 5 of 7 below.
  • 05 of 07

    Sauerkraut

    Split Peas, Sauerkraut and Cabbage

    Barbara Rolek 

    No Polish Christmas Eve dinner would be complete without some type of sauerkraut dish, whether stuffed in pierogi or blended with split peas as in kapusta z grochem (split peas and cabbage).

    This staple vegetable is part of most Eastern European cultures. Apple-cabbage sauerkraut is a good alternative to old-fashioned sauerkraut.

  • 06 of 07

    Desserts and Fruit Compote

    Polish Almond Crescent Cookies (Rogaliki)

    Foodcollection/RF/Getty Images

    Poppy seeds are considered a lucky food in Poland, so you will find them throughout its cuisine and especially on Christmas and New Year's Eve.

    Makowiec is a poppy seed roll or strudel that is wildly popular, as are fruitcake and Royal Mazurek. But it wouldn't be Christmas without kołaczki , the beloved flaky filled cookies, nor gingerbread, nut horns, or sugar cookies.

    Kompot, a dried-fruit compote ideally consisting of 12 dried fruits representing the apostles, is served as a "dessert before the dessert." Any dried fruit—apples, pears, raisins, blueberries, cherries, peaches, or apricots—can be used.

    For some families, a simple platter of apples, nuts in the shell, dried figs, and dates suffices as dessert.

  • 07 of 07

    Beverages

    Honey-spiced vodka

    The Spruce

    Fruit juices, strong coffee, and tea are the beverages of choice. Christmas Eve is considered too solemn an occasion to engage in much tippling, but a sip of krupnik is almost a requirement. This honey-spiced vodka can be served hot or cold, but the serving temperature has nothing to do with its ability to warm a person from the inside out, and the aroma is heavenly. It can be purchased but it tastes so much better when homemade.

    Some families might have a sip of fruit-flavored cordials (nalewki) made with summer's bounty.