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December 23rd, 2001


The Polish side of my family has a tradition called “Wigilia” (pronounced “vuh-LEE-uh”) that I despised as a child, but I’m actually looking forward to this year. I didn’t get to go last year, and this will be the first year that Huyen gets to experience it.

It takes place on Christmas Eve and, simply put, is a large family dinner where relatives that haven’t seen each other all year come together. There are a number of traditions that are part of Wigilia. One is the oplatek, a tasteless wafer that’s blessed by a priest. Each person gets a wafer and breaks bread with every other relative in attendance, wishing peace and happiness for the new year. Relatives that can’t make it are usually mailed a piece of oplatek.

Another tradition is having one extra place setting. I was always told this was for “wandering strangers” that needed a place to eat, but I read somewhere that it was supposed to be for Jesus. I don’t know that he’d want to eat the traditional dinner of smelts and whiting, but it sounds like as good an explanation as any. Also symbolic of Christ’s birth is the bit of hay laid underneath the tablecloth to represent the manger.

Our family added a few of our own traditions. One of the more interesting ones involved my Aunt Stef and my Uncle Bob (they were brother and sister-in-law, but both have passed on). Supposedly a number of years ago, Uncle Bob stole a piece of food off of Aunt Stef’s plate during dinner. Aunt Stef got him back by stealing a piece of her own from his plate. Oddly, this became a tradition and each year, Uncle Bob and Aunt Stef would try to sneak a piece of food from the other’s plate without the other noticing.

I think it takes getting older (“growing up”) to make you start to appreciate these celebrations and traditions, and I’m glad I’ve gotten to that point. It’s nice to look forward to Christmas Eve rather than dread it. 🙂 -ram

Posted in Everyday Life

FROM: fresh
DATE: Sunday December 23, 2001 -- 12:04:21PM
im full irishblood so we have some traditions as well. thse include getting super drunk on guiness and single-malt whiskey and picking fights with the neighborhood persons. this isnt just for christmas or st. patricks day mind you, we do it on any occasion or holiday such as any birthday or arbor day. any other micks out there celebrate like my gigantic catholic family?

FROM: Matt
DATE: Monday December 24, 2001 -- 1:32:25AM
Ryan- Sounds like an awesome tradition, nothing better than leaving Christ a place. I'm sure he would like the Kielbasa's or whatever :)
I also have an Uncle Bob, maybe it's the same one.

FROM: Monica
DATE: Friday December 28, 2001 -- 1:54:03PM
Most of my family's Polish. Last year Babcia (grandmother) gave me an article to read about Polish Christmas traditions, I only remember now the part about straw being put under the table, to emulate being in a stable.
Every year I've gone to see Babcia at my aunt's house, we sing happy birthday to Jesus, too. I like that tradition, wherever it came from.
This year I found out that there's a traditional (but I don't think it is anymore) Polish dish of ox blood soup. (ewwww.) And I got to experience (for me, that meant looking at it) sauerkraut (sp?) pierogi.

FROM: Johnny K.
DATE: Thursday December 19, 2002 -- 1:42:11 pm
I'm not sure what "vuh-LEE-uh" pronounces but it's:

FROM: Ryan [E-Mail]
DATE: Thursday December 19, 2002 -- 2:48:39 pm
Hrm... from what I see on the Net, yours is pretty close to "correct" as either VI-gee-lee-ah or vee-GEE-lee-ah.

Odd. I've never heard it pronounced that way. Then again, we don't have any first-generation Poles in our family, which explain why.

FROM: Barbara
DATE: Monday December 23, 2002 -- 11:37:53 am
Wigilia or wilia depending on which part of Poland your family came from. Translated from the Latin for Vigil.

FROM: john kuzma (Aust)
DATE: Monday March 31, 2003 -- 7:48:19 am
Keep the roots and traditions going. Too many people have forgotten where they come from.

FROM: iwona
DATE: Sunday October 12, 2003 -- 1:52:40 pm
I am from Poland , and have been in England for 8 years, and I think Wigilia is the happies day in whole year for every family in Poland . I love it and my son who are born in london lones too.

FROM: Julie
DATE: Monday November 3, 2003 -- 6:22:53 pm
I was always told the hay under the tablecloth is to symbolize the hay in the manger, you should always have a extra place set for the unexpected guest ( wether it be Jesus, a stranger, or a loved one who was passed ). I was also told that you should never have an odd # of people at the table or one of them would not live to see another christmas . ( Kinda morbid) . But anyway Wilia , or Wagila is the best day of the year !!!

FROM: Aaron [E-Mail]
DATE: Monday November 3, 2003 -- 11:37:31 pm
I can't believe this thread lasted this long without any reference to Festivus.

I thought you were going to mention that when you see your distant relatives for the one time of the year, instead of sharing a wafer, you'd tell them how much they disappointed you that year, etc.

Then come the feats of strength.

FROM: LInda Puchmeyer
DATE: Thursday November 13, 2003 -- 11:35:41 am
Great info. here. My mom's side of the family is polish, and we have celebrated Wigilia forever. I am 31, and now married, and this is the first year that I will host the traditional Christmas Eve Dinner. We always did the oplatke tradition, and we ate it with a slice of garlic. The garlic was supposed to ward off any bad things that would approach you in the year to come. We also sang happy birthday to baby jesus! I loved doing that as a child. We had 13 meatless foods : for Jesus and the 12 apostles, the ones that really come to mind are fried fish, sauerkraut with butter beans,and crepes filled with yummy apricot or grape jelly. We never had straw underneath the tablecloth, but I think I am going to adopt that tradition, as it makes sense to represent the humble nativity. I also like the idea of setting an empty place setting for an unexpected guest.

P.s. we always pronounced the holiday "vuh-lee-uh"!

Hope you all keep this rich tradition alive!

FROM: Beth Hudak
DATE: Thursday November 13, 2003 -- 7:48:30 pm
This is going to be the first year of preparing the Wegilia Christmas Eve dinner along with my daughter's new mother-in-law. I'm so looking forward to hosting this dinner. I've ordered some traditional items for this dinner. We will have a 9-course meal. I hope my children will continue this tradition.

FROM: wigilia fan
DATE: Friday December 12, 2003 -- 8:58:10 pm

A Christmas eve staple for me growing up in Buffalo....


FROM: Pole here
DATE: Monday December 15, 2003 -- 9:23:56 am
It's not pronounced "vuh-LEE-uh" ... it's pronounced "vee-guee-lee-ah" !!

FROM: Paulina
DATE: Tuesday December 16, 2003 -- 9:47:12 pm
I think that Wigilia is the most important event POlish people celebrate.For us,POlish people, Wigilia brings the memmories of warmth and love. It is the only time during the year when all the family feuds disappear to be replaced by great, christmas atmosphere.I wish everyone could have a chance to celebrate a traditional polish Wigilia

FROM: dominika
DATE: Wednesday December 17, 2003 -- 6:14:53 am
Wigilia to piękne święta, jest to cos niesamowitego. uwielbiam Wigilięęęęęęęęęęęęęęęęęęęęęęęęęęęęęęęęęęęęęęęęęęęęęęęęęęęe

FROM: Patrycja
DATE: Wednesday December 17, 2003 -- 6:17:27 am
ja jade na święta do babci. jest to wspaniałe święto, ktre uważam że trzeba przeżyć razem. trzeba się podzielić połatkiem, pjść na pasterkę i pomofdlić się ..... uwielbiam to święto

FROM: Uk predator
DATE: Wednesday December 24, 2003 -- 10:41:30 pm
It is spelt Wigilia & in no other way unless u r a Red neck
& we like to celabrate it by eating Bats wings in the presence of the almighty Ozzy Osbourne

FROM: kukas [E-Mail]
DATE: Tuesday December 14, 2004 -- 7:42:17 am

FROM: Paulette
DATE: Thursday December 23, 2004 -- 9:51:45 am
Being 100% Polish, this Christmas Eve tradition has been in my family from the time my grandmother & grandfather stepped off the boat in New York. Now that my grandparents and parents are gone, it's up to our family to keep up the traditions. I remember being at the end of the table looking at my Dad and BaBa explaining the meaning of our Christmas Eve Dinner. Now, my brother & I are sitting in their seats. We have the oplatke (all pieces dipped in honey) which we share with all family members. Also, we have the pierogi, cabbage, fish (cod), peas and prunes (which we now look forward to), boiled potatoes, mushroom gravy, cottage cheese crepes with pineapple topping. Rye bread dipped in crushed garlic is also part of our tradition. We also added broccoli & rice casserole and steamed shrimp to our menu (just to modernize it a little). At the end of the dinner, we all share a piece of an apple which represents the whole family...which means we can always depend on the love of family to help us when we need help. I sadly know that one day in the future this dinner will be lost.....since quite a few of our family members have either passed on (including our dear Aunt Jennie) or starting their own family Christmas traditions. God Bless the families that carry on these traditions.

FROM: Joseph
DATE: Thursday December 23, 2004 -- 11:18:28 am
I'm not Polish, but I appreciate heart-warming holiday stories like these. I come from a large Irish-Italian-German-Russian-Prussian-Slovak-Scottish family, and we have dispersed about the country and don't see each other as much as we'd like to anymore.

As a kid, most of our traditions sort of melded into the Christmas Eve gift giving and family meal on Christmas Day at my Aunt Jo's--basically a repeat of Thanksgiving, but with the addition of a honey baked ham. We didn't do straw or set an extra place setting, have the whole family take a slice on one apple, etc, but we came together once a year and buried the hatchet.

My Aunt Jo had a very annoying personality (she was very loud, smelled of cigarettes and was the cheek pincher), and always lived far away--you knew you were going to be away from your new toys for a long time. The annual Christmas Day trip to Aunt Jo's was dreaded by all. Come late evening she sent us home every year with homemade popcorn balls she made with scorched popcorn.

Now that I'm an adult, I miss it all. Though I make perfect popcorn, I may purposely scorch some and make popcorn balls just for that terrible taste that brings back so many memories. I may ask my fiancee to smoke a cigarette, give me a big wet kiss on the cheek (that you need to wipe), laugh in my ear really loud so that my eardrum pops and pinch my cheeks really hard. The joys of being eight years old.

DATE: Saturday January 1, 2005 -- 4:07:19 pm

FROM: Marion Runerson
DATE: Monday November 21, 2005 -- 2:01:40 pm
I am 79 years old. During my pre teen years my father always bought a canned Polish ham for Christmas, this was a treat. Also I failed to notice any mention of taking food (sausage, home made kraut, & Polish pastry) to church to be blessed by the Polish Speaking priest at Saint Hedwedge in South Bend. Dads home made sausage was always a something special. A Blessed Christmas and a Happy New Year to all. Marion (Pobiedzinski) Runerson

FROM: vminke
DATE: Friday December 23, 2005 -- 11:34:56 am
Hey your experience with wigilia sounds a lot like mine. Our family pronounces it the same way as you did. I am actually getting ready for wigilia as we speak. I love this tradition and it's great to get the family together!

walter December 21, 2007, 12:16 pm

At age 54, I try to keep this tradition alive–even if its just for myself– my wife has grown to love it and my son, now married could do without it. In my childhood in northeastern PA in was definitely pronounced “vuh-LEE-uh” and like the original author, it seems more appealing as an adult than as a child. Our house was first generation American of half Polish and half Slovak descent, with traditions from both regions. Besides the pierogies (which I buy from a local church) I still make my mother’s Potato & Mushroom Soup. In addition to the obvious potatoes and mushrooms the recipe also includes a cup of sour kraut juice and a mixture called “zuprashka” sp??? which was browned (burned) flower in butter. This coffee-brown colored paste is then drizzled into the soup to give it body. Keep the Wigilia tradition alive. Merry Christmas!

Patricia Jo December 13, 2009, 11:40 pm

Greetings: What a joy it was reading all the responses. “Nah-stro-viah” everyone! How about these one- my grandma “Boo-sha” also from Poland. She mentioned one evening when we were leaving, “Wigilia” that no person was suppose to go into the barn at midnight because that was when the “animals could speak and people were to never witness that spiritual happening…it kinda freaked me out, she told me this when I was about 10.

I am now close to the big 50, am celebrating most of the traditions that have been mentioned earlier, but the real fun will be when I have grandchildren. Our “Wigilia” for the past several has only been about 12-13 people but, it is still pretty good but not like the ones of my younger years…I miss the aunts/uncles cousins and just the generations of people.

And, my “Jah-sha” grandpa Konarski singing “Christ the Lord” or not sure of the exact title but he would sing it in POLISH while playing the violin.

He made the best popcorn balls and home-made root-beer!
May everyone have a joyous season! I have to make sure I have enough RUM for the “Cruschiki” sp? pronounced “Krus-chee-kee”

Palickar December 23, 2009, 4:34 pm

to quote Pole here:
>>It’s not pronounced “vuh-LEE-uh” … it’s pronounced “vee-guee-lee-ah” !!

That is true if you are Polish. If you are Slovak, it is correctly pronounced “vuh-LEE-uh”

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