Jak będzie Wigilia, tak będzie caly rok.
— "As is wigilia, so is the entire year," a Polish proverb.
Wigilia, literally meaning "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. It's a magical time when it is believed animals can talk and humans can predict the future.
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 is rectangular-shaped Communion-like wafers embossed with the nativity scene or other images.
01 of 09
Pickled or creamed herring, rolmopsy (rollmops, pictured here), smoked salmon, caviar, pickled beets, mushrooms and other vegetables are important components of the wigilia dinner.
Today, most cooks, even in Poland, buy their herring already pickled.
02 of 09
After hors d'oeuvres, soup is served. It can be a sour mushroom noodle soup (zupa grzybowa z kluski), pictured here, or sour mushroom-barley soup. Both soups are soured either with kraut juice or sour cream.
A red beet soup (barszcz) soured with either kwas, lemon juice or vinegar and brimming with boiled potatoes or mushroom-filled "little-ear" dumplings (uszka), or almond soup (wigilijna zupa migdalowa) are served in some families.
03 of 09
Freshwater fish, usually white fish, carp, lake perch, trout or pike, is always part of the dinner. It is served whole or filleted, breaded and fried, poached, baked, stewed or glazed with aspic, depending on family preferences.
Years ago in Poland when fresh fish wasn't available, families would dine on pickled herring and hot boiled potatoes.
04 of 09
Cereals and Grains
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) or noodles with poppy seeds known as kluski z makiem or noodles with stewed fruit or jam. Frequently, pierogi, with a mushroom-sauerkraut or savory cheese filling are served.
Grains often eaten on Christmas Eve are barley, buckwheat groats, kasha, or boiled rice with browned butter, cinnamon, and sugar. Rice, mushrooms, and other vegetables also appear in meatless cabbage rolls.Continue to 5 of 9 below.
05 of 09
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 my family's favorite dish called kapusta z grochem (split peas and cabbage), pictured here.
06 of 09
Dried Fruit Compote
Kompot, a dried-fruit compote ideally consisting of 12 dried fruits representing the apostles, is served as a "dessert before the dessert." In my family, only prunes were made into a compote, but any dried fruit—apples, pears, raisins, blueberries, cherries, peaches, 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 09
Polish Christmas Dessert Recipes
Poppy seeds are considered a lucky food in Poland, so you will find them throughout the cuisine and especially on Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve.
08 of 09
Polish Christmas Cookie Recipes
It wouldn't be Christmas without kołaczki (pictured here), the flaky filled cookies many people are familiar with. But there are also gingerbread cookies, sandwich cookies, nut horns, sugar cookies, almost too many to choose from!Continue to 9 of 9 below.
09 of 09
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 premade (pictured here) but, as is the case with most things, it tastes so much better homemade.
Some families might have a sip of fruit-flavored cordials (nalewki) made with summer's bounty.