My Polish Wigilia

Fresh fruit and other goodies
Fresh fruit and sweets at my mother’s.

(Click on the photos to enlarge).

Fredrik and I never eat Christmas Eve Dinner together. Why, you may ask. Well, Fredrik prefers Swedish Christmas food with his family and I prefer Polish Christmas food with my family :-) In the morning we eat breakfast together (te and gingerbread cookies) while we open our Christmas presents. Then we separate go to our families to celebrate with them. This year (or actually last year as it’s already January), thanks to our rather new mobile phones, we had video calls during the day in which we were able to see each other and our families. Fredrik’s grandmother who’s over 90 years old was thrilled over the video calls and had a lot of fun.

In Poland the Christmas Eve dinner, Wigilia, begins when the first star – Gwiazdka - appears on the sky. Normally this occur around 3-4 P.M. The dinner table has always an extra place set for an unexpected guest, which I think is a lovely custom. The table is set with a white tablecloth and under it there should be a thin layer of hay in memory of the Godchild in the manger. However in my family we have always omitted the hay for an unknown reason. Before the dinner starts we pray by the table and then we share Opłatek with each other. Opłatek is a Christmas wafer, very similiar to the altar bread in the Roman Catholic Church. The Opłatek that we share is stamped with beautiful ornaments and it is always sent from my dear aunt in Poland. Everybody takes a piece of the Opłatek and then breaks it with each person present while wishing each other health, love, happiness and other more personal wishes. I always have a hard time during this moment as I get very emotional.

Uszki, the beetroot soup Barszcz will be poured over them in just a while.

The dinner then continues with the first dish, which is the beetroot soup Barszcz. On Christmas it is served clear without any pieces or vegetables. The soup is very hot and normally my brother Sebastian always does the very last seasoning before it is served. This year he celebrated Christmas with his parents-in-law, which means that we had to put the last touch ourselves but we managed well :-) The Barszcz is served with Uszki which means small ears. I guess that you can say that it’s a kind of small stuffed tortellini with mushrooms that my mother makes. This year, when I started eating the Barszcz and the uszka I just couldn’t stop smiling and my mother laughed at me. But it was so divine and I was really happy to eat it as we only eat it once a year.

Barszcz z uszkami
Barszcz z uszkami (Beetroot soup).

Before I continue with describing the food I just want to mention that the Wigilia is a meatless dinner. Long time ago the Roman Catholic Church decided that meat on Christmas Eve was forbidden and that a strict fast should be observed. Nowadays the Church laws have been revised and permit meat on Wigilia but most of the families continue with the meatless dinner, my family would never dream of changing this old tradition.

Ruskie Pierogi Pierogi z kapustą kiszoną i grzybami
Ruskie Pierogi and Pierogi z kapustą kiszoną i grzybami.

After the Barszcz we continue with the Pierogi, my favourite dish. Pierogi is a kind of Ravioli or dumplings, stuffed with goodies. There are a lot of differents variants, but my favourite is the one with quark cheese and potatoes called Ruskie Pierogi (Russian Pierogi. Don’t ask me why they are called like that. I suspect that they don’t have anything to do with Russia at all). Luckily for me, the ones we eat for Christmas are always Ruskie Pierogi and also Pierogi z kapustą kiszoną i grzybami (Pierogi with sauerkraut and mushrooms). So know you know my favourites, Barszcz and Ruskie Pierogi, but there are other dishes as well. So let us continue.

Śledzie w śmietanie
Śledzie w śmietanie, pickled herring with Crème Fraiche.

Śledzie , pickled herring, is another great dish. This year we only had one kind of herring, Śledzie w śmietanie, which is pickled herring in cream or actually Crème Fraiche and onion. Earlier years we’ve had pickled herring in a kind of oil as well, but each year we tend to eat less food and it’s no use waisting it so nowadays we only prepare our absolute favourites. The Polish pickled herring differs from the Swedish one; there’s no sugar and the taste is much better even if I can appreciate the Swedish one as well.

Chrzan Buraki
Chrzan and Ćwikła.

Another typical Polish dish is Ćwikła, very finely grated beetroots with horseradish. Delicious and hot, perfect as accompaniment to other dishes. Then there’s also Chrzan, finely grated horseradish that we always get ready from Poland in some way. It’s really hot and perfect as a strong accompaniment just as the Ćwikła.

Vegetable salad Crayfish tail salad
Vegetable salad and Crayfish tail salad.

Another dish on the Christmas table is vegetable salad with potatoes, green peas, carrots, onion and mayonnaise. There’s also a salad with crayfish tails and eggs, among other things. And there’s also smoked salmon and fried fish. I didn’t take any photos of the “non-typical” Polish dishes as I wanted to place emphasis on the traditional Polish food.

As I wrote earlier, we don’t make as much food for Christmas as we used to do as we ended up with too much left-overs. When I was a young girl we, among other dishes, always had Carp - the traditional Polish Christmas fish. The Carp was bought alive (!) at Saluhallen by my mother and then we had it in the bath tub for a few days before the poor fish was killed by my father. Understandable, I wasn’t at home at the terrible points of time. And most important, I never ate the Carp. Never. This doesn’t mean that my parents were cold-murdered Carp killers. Buying an alive Carp and having it in your bath tub is a typical Polish tradition and everyone does it, or at least did it earlier. Luckily Carps are not allowed to be sold alive in Sweden anymore. The whole Polish Carp tradition is a big issue that has attracted attention among many, so read more about Polish people and their Christmas Carps here.

Tort Jagodywy Tort Czekoladowy
Blueberry Cake and Chocolate Cake.

After dinner, it’s time for the Christmas presents. Just as last year I was announced Santa and had to wear a Santa cap while handing out all Christmas presents from under my mother’s white (!) Christmas tree. We had a great time and after a while we were enough hungry to start with the cakes and the coffee. Traditionally Polish people eat Sernik (Polish baked Cheesecake) and Makowiec (Poppy Seed cake) on special occasions, but otherwise also. This year my mother made a delicious Blueberry Cake while I did a Chocolate Cake and the Chocolate Oblivion Cake that I’ve blogged about earlier, originally from 101 Cookbooks. I also made an extra Chocolate Oblivion Cake for Fredrik’s family which they appreciated very much as their dessert had strangely disappeared. Actually the main ingredient for their dessert, Ris à la Malta ( a delicious kind of creamy rice pudding that you eat in Sweden as Christmas dessert), had disappeared so they were extra happy for the lovely Chocolade Cake which they ate instead.

I hope that you also had a wonderful Christmas with your dear ones. I had a lovely time and this year, after moving to Stockholm, the Wigilia will mean even more to me as I won’t be able to see my parents as often as today.

(Click on the photos to enlarge).

31 Responses to “My Polish Wigilia”

  1. Alanna
    January 4th, 2006 15:16

    What extraordinarily beautiful food! MY!

  2. Kinna
    January 4th, 2006 19:17

    Lovely blog! Do you have any descriptions of how these wonderful things are made. I have had polish stuff a couple of times and they are soooooo goood. I would like to make them myself.

  3. Anne
    January 4th, 2006 20:16

    It all sounds so very very wonderful! And gorgeous pictures, too!

  4. Pille
    January 4th, 2006 20:56

    Hi Dagmar, thanks for a wonderful roundup of your Polish Xmas meal! As you imagine, quite a few of the dishes remind me of Estonian foods – although Christmas is a very meaty affair back home (pork roast, black pudding etc). Beetroot soup with mushroom “ears” sounds especially delicious!

  5. christina
    January 5th, 2006 18:18

    Hello Dagmar and happy new year.
    Just wanted to tell you about the Polish foodstore att Zinkensdam i case you didn´t knew it, it is small but very good. My best friend is from Poland and I got introducede to this little pearl by her.The exakt adress is Brännkyrkagatan, unfortunately i have no number, but you take to the right from the subway entrance.Thank you for a wonderfull blogg and good luck i your apartmenthunting in Stockholm. Christina

  6. Catesa
    January 6th, 2006 11:04

    happy new year Dagmar! that all looks so delicious, I love reading about your families Polish traditions. Those Pierogi look amazing, they are one of my favourite foods and usually every winter i make about 5kg for freezing… sadly this year i skipped it but am slowly beginning to regret the decision. Maybe some will be pade. Besides using potato as a filling, does your family also knead it into the dough? i wondered if this was also a traditional way of doing it :)

    take care!!

  7. keiko
    January 7th, 2006 04:56

    Happy new year, Dagmar! What a feast, it reminds me of the delicious meals I had in Poland. The comment from Pille is interesting about Polish and Estonian food being similar…

  8. Dagmar
    January 9th, 2006 10:40

    Thank you!

    Thank you. I will post the recepies in the future. Just let me know which dishes you’re most kean on.

    Thanks! Maybe we’ll have a Polish evening when I move to Stockholm :-)

    Thank you! Actually I’ve been to the Polish store near Zinkensdamm, but it was a long time ago and I had forgotten about it. As you write it’s very small but they have a lot of great things.

    Thank you Catesa. Pierogi is my favourite food. Oh, 5 kgs is a lot, yummy! Feel free to send me some if you’ll make them later :-) There is a variant called Kopytka, which consists of cooked potatoes, flour and egg. But thoose aren’t filled like Pierogi.And there’s also a variant of Pierogi called Leniwe Pierogi (Lazy pierogi) where you don’t have any filling, but you add quark to the dough.

    Happy new year to you to! Eastern European food is quite similar and it tastes great :-)

  9. Barbara
    January 9th, 2006 13:33

    Dagmar, I just got up early to send Morganna off to school and haven’t eaten and you have gone and made me hungry. All the peirogies and dumplings, and saurkraut and mushrooms and sour cream and horseradish and beets! They all sound absolutely delicious, and the borscht (I only know the Russian spelling, I am sorry!) with the mushroom dumplings sounds amazing.

    You know there is an Italian pasta called “oriechette,” which means “little ears,” and there is one in China called “cat’s ears.” I think there are plenty of cuisines where people give kind of funny, kind of macabre names to dishes.

    Happy New Year to you, Frederick and the kitties!

  10. sandra
    January 10th, 2006 11:43

    What a Lovely blog, Dagmar!! And your cat it’s wonderful..:

  11. Dagmar
    January 11th, 2006 11:23

    I wish that I could have sent you the food, because it is really delicious :-)
    It’s funny that so many countries call their dumplings ears. But after all they do resemble tiny ears!

    Thank you. I whish you and Zake a Happy New Year as well. And of course Morganna and all the cats! Take care!

    Thanks for visiting! And thanks for the compliments!

  12. Kinna
    January 15th, 2006 11:12

    I would be very happy to receive a recipe of your Ruskie Pierogi and Pierogi z kapustą kiszoną i grzybami. I guess it is a kind of raviolis. And also your pickled herring (if it is not a swedish one.

  13. Dagmar
    January 16th, 2006 13:17

    Hi Kinna,

    As the dishes are done by heart (“höftade mått”), I don’t have any exact recipe. I think that I would have to make them with my mother and take notes. But sooner or later I’ll provide you with a recipe. I hope sooner :-)

  14. Kinna
    January 16th, 2006 19:08

    So do I. =)

  15. Ana [Lua]
    October 30th, 2006 20:02

    I was in Warszawa last week and ate pierogi. It’s my favourite polish food.

    I’m still wondering how it’s made…

  16. Dagmar
    November 5th, 2006 15:15

    I will post about pierogi the next time I’ll make them.

  17. Lily
    November 10th, 2006 18:08

    The carp in the bathtub! As a matter of fact, there is an American children’s story of the same title. It’s actually about a Passover Seder, the Jewish holiday dinner. Carp is often used to make gefilte fish (a traditional Seder dish) and in the book, the narrator and her brother become very fond of the carp who lives in their bathtub for a few days. They get very upset when their mother brings decides it’s time to make dinner…

  18. Dagmar
    November 13th, 2006 00:19

    Lily: That sounds like a lovely book, just like my childhood during Christmas :-)

  19. barbara
    November 27th, 2006 04:19

    I would like to receive a recepie for chrusciki

  20. Wanda
    December 12th, 2006 07:45

    Hi there from New Zealand!
    I’m a Kiwi of Polish descent (my parents came over as refugees during WW2).
    We too celebrate Wigilia, and just loved your description of the feast. It’s unsurprisingly similar to ours, except we eat ours in daylight – about 5pmish as it is the start of summer!
    I’m at this moment about to start making uszki!!
    All the best

  21. Dagmar
    December 13th, 2006 23:26

    Wanda: Hi! Uszki, how yummy. I’m really looking forward to Christmas! I hope that you’ll have a wonderful Wigilia and Christmas!! Take care!

  22. Dagmar
    December 13th, 2006 23:28

    Barbara: I’ve never done chrusciki so I can’t really recommend any recipe. I don’t feel comfortable giving a recipe that I havn’t tried. My mother does them by heart, so that wouldn’t help neither. Try searching on the internet.

  23. polish boy
    June 7th, 2007 16:19

    all that is true…. :):):)

  24. Katerina
    April 27th, 2008 00:07

    Carp in the bathtub is not only polish speciality..Czechs do it too. Before christmas streets are full with water cistern and carps..

  25. Jacqueline
    December 13th, 2008 13:29

    Dear Dagmar,

    Thank you so much for this! My mother-in-law is half Polish and as a tribute to her Polish roots, my husband’s family has always celebrated Wigilia. This year it’s going to be my turn, being the eldest daughter-in-law, to cook and host the dinner. It’s my first time and I’ve been looking everywhere for more information about the food and traditions.
    I found your description really useful – thank you!

    Would you happen to know whether it’s possible to make the uszka in advance and freeze them? Some people say you can, but only if you cook them before putting them in the freezer. Is this true?

  26. Dagmar
    December 21st, 2008 12:43

    Hi Jacqueline, I’m sorry for the late answer but I didn’t see your comment until now. We always make the uszka in advance and put them in the freezer. But we always cook them before. On Wigilia we just put them in each person’s bowl and cover with really hot barszcz! Good luck with your Christmas preparations!

  27. Jacqueline
    December 29th, 2008 20:48

    Thanks, Dagmar! Sorry I didn’t manage to thank you earlier, but your comments were very useful – my uszka and barszcz turned out beautifully and even got a compliment from my mother-in-law!

  28. nat
    December 1st, 2010 22:47

    my family used to spent christmas exactly the same as yours before moving away from Poland. we had a hay under tablecloth from newspaper. my grandpa used to kill the carp and i had never tried a dish with carp in it on christmas. my favourite dishes when i was young were also barszcz z uszkami i pierogi, because we only ate them homemade once a year – the christmas was really special. i miss those times. thanks for all the recipes!
    p.s. i really love your cat Yoshi!

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