Poles getting ready for Wigilia Dinner

Preparations are well underway for the Wigilia dinner which traditionally starts after the first star appears in the sky

Detail from The Adoration of the Shepherds by Gerard van Honthorst (Wikipedia) -

Detail from The Adoration of the Shepherds by Gerard van Honthorst (Wikipedia) –

Christmas Eve, Wigilia, in Poland is one of the most important days in the social calendar of Poles around the world.

The events of the day are steeped in centuries of traditions passed down through the generations.

Because the holiday is essentially a Christian feast, fasting from red meat is traditional, so the Wigilia dinner consists of vegetarian and fish dishes.

Let’s look at some of the quirkier traditions associated with Wigilia:

1) One free seat

Families usually leave one free chair around the Wigilia table just in case a guest arrives uninvited.

2) Twelve dishes

It is the norm for families to prepare 12 separate dishes, which represent the 12 apostles who followed Jesus.

3) Hay under the tablecloth

A few strands of hay under the tablecloth represents Jesus’s first hours, when he was placed in a manger. (Luke 2:7: […] and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.)

4) Lucky carp

A dish of fried carp is a mainstay of Polish Wigilia dinners. The freshwater fish is filleted, breaded and fried. Guests must be careful because the long and hard bones could cause discomfort if swallowed. Many also like to keep the large scales from the fish in their wallet over the coming year. This practice is said to bring good luck and fortune.


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