Christmas in Poland is one of the beautiful things, connected with marrying a Polish girl. I am from Germany, to be more correct East Germany, where Christmas was totally demystified. An angel was called end of year character with wings and Christmas Jahresendfest – end of year celebration. Whooohooo. Do you feel the marxist romanticism? But Poland is different. The Christmas eve is full of surprises.
I was astonished, could not beliefe what i see: people waiting outside of a church in order to come in. Nononono, not at 24th of December but on a normal Polish summer sunday afternoon – this was one of the unforgettable scenes I brought home from my first trip to Poland about fifteen years ago.
A couple of years later I got to know a sweet Polish girl named Anna on a conference in Brussels. Some months after this meeting I found myself sitting on a Christmas table in Warsaw in a family I nearly didn’t know. And again this country, just a hundred kilometres away from Berlin surprised me a lot. But I survived those days an Anna’s family loved me and I loved them.
Probably because I was smiling very friendly all the time. What else to do if everybody in this cosy little flat is not speaking your language: Granny, parents, Anna, her brother in the wheelchair and her little sister. Just the dog called Vena and me spoke the same language.
A little tradition I really like about the Polish Christmas Eve (wigilia) is the sharing of the opłatki (Christmas wafer) before starting the big meal. In pairs you meet, give each other a piece of your tasteless wafer and tell personal wishes to your counterparts. It’s very nice and personal.
After this you sit down at the table, which is usually full of food and has one plate more than needed. The perfect Polish housewife (kura domowa) is serving 12 different dishes for 12 months of happiness in the upcoming year. But it’s hard the reach this level of perfection. A bit less is also okay. The main problem is, that it’s obviously all about numbers, the amount of dishes, but not necessarily about the taste. At the same time with not eating a piece from everything you risk some bad luck months.
At my first Polish Christmas I was very friendly, curious like hell and so tried it all: This thin red (and usually tasty!) soup with little pasta “ears” (borscht with uszki), the pierogi (which I still call most of the time pelmeni, because I lived in Russia for a while), the salmon, the carp, all the salads with allot of mayonnaise… Hmmmm. Yummy.
But there are also strange things you will have to eat – like carp in aspic, noodles with poppy seeds, herring with allot of onions, some dry cakes. Even a proper Pole doesn’t like and eat everything. But not eating means less happiness. So I take, take, take, smile and deepen the friendship with the dog under my chair.
Usually my German grandmother and mother were cooking a duck or a rabbit, with dumplings, brown sauce and red cabbage on Christmas Eve. The older people drank started the meal with some red wine.
Knowing Poland a little bit, I was really surprised, not to find any meat on the table. If you ever visited Poland you will understand my astonishment. Babies here are fed with milk and sausages. A table without meat is a table without food. But on Christmas Eve (and before Eastern) the world is turned upside down: No meat allowed! This derives from the Catholic tradition of fasting before the biggest celebrations.
Secondly my Annas family was not drinking any alcohol this night. Well, Poles don’t raise babies with alcohol, but at some point youngsters learn how to handle vodka and other hard stuff somehow naturally. If you don’t believe me, go on a Polish wedding! But not so on Christmas Eve. Paradoxically after Christmas in every radio news you here policemen proudly telling, how many drunk drivers the stopped and how many accidents were cause by drunk people behind the steering wheel.
Instead of vodka or wine on wigilia Poles serve a drink called kompot. It is an disgusting juice made of dried fruits like apples, morello cherries, currants or plums. If you ask me – it tastes awful, smoky, like some medicine, an ashtray filled up with hot water and rotten fruits. I guess that is why Poles love to drink Coca Cola at Christmas. It is simply much better than this kompot.
And everybody here knows, after drinking something which can harm you body (like a glass of vodka) you have to dring a sip of something else, which takes away the bad taste. Remember this. It might be helpful on your next Polish wedding.
After you and your tried all the things on the table it’s time for the children to go out of the house an look for the first star on the sky. At this moment a miracle appears. When there are coming back, suddenly there are presents under the Christmas tree, brought by Święty Mikołaj (the red hat guy from Norway). Yes, in Poland they people also use the Christmas – by the way a German invention and a symbol for the German Gemütlichkeit (cosyness). We simply love candles and all this stuff!
At midnight, you better show up in a church close to your house. If you feel like sitting, while listening about the story of Jesus’ birth – better go there 15 minutes earlier. Otherwise you might have to stand or even worse – you cannot even enter the church. You will freeze for one hour like hell and wish to spend next Christmas in a more Marxist environment.
This post is also available in: German
Our first book is out!
We have published our first book (for now just in Polish:) about our Central America Trip.
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