Today’s post is all about spending Christmas at my family home in Poland, but mainly focusing on Christmas Eve. I’m sure every Polish family is different – what’s served at my home is not necessarily served at another – but there are definitely a few dishes that my compatriots will recognise immediately. I grew up with the traditions and dishes shown below and I simply love Polish Christmas food. If you’re ever invited to a Polish house for Christmas Eve, don’t hesitate for a second! I hope my blog post will show you why.
Christmas traditions in a nutshell
We celebrate Christmas on the 24th of December contrary to English-speaking countries where it’s celebrated on the 25th. It’s always a big family gathering: the more people, the merrier! There is always one empty plate put on the table in case an unexpected guest wanted to join the feast or was simply looking for shelter. We sing Christmas carols and share an ‘opłatek’, which is a wafer with religious embroidery.
Another important tradition is that we put some hay beneath the tablecloth as a form of rememberance that Jesus, according to the Bible, was put in a manger covered with hay.
It is believed in Poland that animals are magically able to talk on the 24th of December. Legend has it that they received this power to talk because they were present at the stable where Jesus was born. So don’t be surprised if you see a Polish person talking to his/her animal and expecting an answer in a human voice…
In a traditional Polish home you should abstain from eating meat or drinking alcohol on the 24th of December – a rule not followed by my family. We both eat meat and drink alcohol – naughty people!
According to tradition, there should be twelve dishes served on the table – one for each month of the year (twelve is also a symbol of wealth and represents the twelve apostles). In my family, we don’t really count how many dishes we serve. I would say that we usually have more than twelve and it’s the reason we cannot move from the table after we finish eating! Below are some traditional dishes that we eat. I won’t describe all the ingredients these dishes are composed of, but just mention the main ones to give you a general idea of what they actually are. If you’re looking for the recipes for some of them, just type the names into Google.
Red Borscht with small dumplings (called uszka) – Barszcz czerwony z uszkami
Dumplings filled with sauerkraut and mushrooms – Pierogi z kapusta i grzybami
Sauerkraut with mushrooms – Bigos.
Carp is the most popular fish served at Christmas and I would risk saying probably only at Christmas, as outside of this period carp is not popular at all. When I was younger I remember my father bringing some live carp home and putting them in a bath filled with water. The tradition I once loved and got excited about is now something I don’t really understand and get angry about. In fact, not only me – there have been a lot of campaigns against it, mainly due to the fact that carp are brought home alive in plastic bags before being released in the bath.
Carp in jelly
Cod marinated in grated carrots, tomatoes, onions and vinegar – Ryba po grecku
The direct translation would be “Fish made in a Greek way”, but the funny thing is that the Greeks know nothing about this method. It’s in fact a modification of a famous Greek recipe.
Polish Potato Salad, also known as the Russian salad – Saładka jarzynowa
The salad is made from different types of root vegetables like potatoes, carrots, and parsnips; we also add boiled eggs and gherkins and mix it all with mayo.
Steak Tartare – Befsztyk tatarski
This is raw minced meat mixed with raw eggs, gherkins, onions and mustard. I used to avoid it, thinking I would have a tape worm in my stomach after eating raw meat. I love it now and the meat is actually safe to eat. This dish should not really be part of traditional Polish dinners served at Christmas, but it is in my home, so I’ll always consider it as my family’s tradition and a part of Christmas Eve.
Poppy seed cake – Makowiec
Cheesecake – Sernik
White cheese is mixed with flour, eggs, sugar and, contrary to English cheesecakes, it requires baking.
My father’s layercake
There are drawbacks to such an abundance of food on Christmas Eve. First of all, it’s time-consuming and therefore stressful. Shopping in advance, spending hours in the kitchen and, of course, arguments happen! In my home everything is home-made so you can imagine how much time and effort is spent on preparing these dishes. However, these are the traditions I grew up with and would like to cultivate in the future – I’m not sure what the outcome will be!