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December 23rd, 2001

Wigilia

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

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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