This story, “Christmas in Poland,” was derived from a book entitled “Treasured Polish Recipes.” Don’t let the title fool you. It’s a story book with recipes in it.
“Christmas in Poland retains much of its story book fascination.
“This holiday is preceded by a period of four weeks during which fast is observed on Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays. Strict fast is observed throughout the day before Christmas, and in the evening, the Wilia Supper is served. It is the most solemnly celebrated occasion and is so closely connected with family life, that members of the family who are away feel very deeply their absence from home. Polish housewives prepare for days in advance the traditional foods, beverages and decorations.
“When the first star appears in the Eastern skies, the family gathers at the table for the Wilia Supper, a feast to commemorate the birth of the God Child. In farm homes, sheaves of grain, tied with colored ribbons, are placed in the corners of the room with a silent prayer for a good harvest in the next season. There is always a thin layer of hay under the white tablecloth in memory of the God Child in the manger. In every house in Poland, all members of the household, before sitting down to the table, break the traditional wafer, Oplatek, and exchange good wishes. The Oplatek is a thin unleavened wafer like the altar bread in the church, stamped with the figures of the God Child, the Blessed Mary, and the Holy Angels. It is known as the Bread of Love. The wafers are sent by mail to the absent members of the family.
“The Supper itself differs from other evening meals in that the number of courses is fixed at seven, nine or eleven; and in no case must there be an odd number of people at the table. Otherwise, some of the feasters would not live to see another Christmas! A lighted candle in the window symbolizes the hope that the God Child, in the form of a stranger, may come to share the Wilia Supper, and an extra place is set at the table for the expectant guest. This belief stems from the ancient Polish adage, ‘Guest in the home is God in the home.”
“The Wilia seems very long to the children who are impatient for the lighted Christmas tree. Christmas trees are very popular in Poland. In the large houses in the cities, they are placed on the floor or the table; in the villages, they are hung from the ceiling, all decorated with apples, nuts, candies and many small toys made out of blown eggs, colored paper and straw. It is supposed that the gifts were brought by an angel, since their St. Nicholas had visited the children on December sixth. An old Christmas carol is sung and then the gifts are opened. More carols follow and there is great joy and merriment.
“Polish carols, Kolendy, are very numerous and beautiful. They are sung at Midnight Mass, the Pasterka, (Shepherds’ Watch), and it is a popular belief in the villages that while the congregation is praying, peace descends on the snow-clad sleeping earth, and that during this holy night, the humble companions of men, the domestic animals, assume voices; but only the innocent of them may hear them.
“Christmas Day is spent in rest, prayer and visits to various member of the family.
“From Christmas Eve until Twelfth Night, boys trudge from village to village with an illuminated star and a ranting King Herod among them, to sing carols. Sometimes they penetrate the towns in expectation of more generous gifts. In some districts, the boys carry puppet shows called szopki. These are built like a little house with two towers, open in the front where a small crib is set and before which marionettes sing their dialogue. During the Christmas season, the theaters give special Christmas performances.
“On the feast of Epiphany, the priest and the organist visit the homes, bless them and write over the doors the initials of the Three Wise Men (KMB) in the belief that this will spare them misfortune.
“”The Christmas season closes on February second, Candlemas Day. On that day, people carry candles to church and have them blessed for use in their homes during storms, sickness and death.
“Among the Poles, wherever they are, the most beloved and beautiful of all their traditional festivities is that of Christmas Eve. In the words of their forefathers, who called the Christmas Days Gody, it is to them a time of good will, love, harmony, forgiveness, and peace.”
“SUGGESTED CHRISTMAS EVE SUPPERS”
“Herring and pickled mushrooms; Clear barszcz and mushrooms usczka; Pike with horseradish sauce; Baked sauerkraut with yellow peas; Fried fish with lemon rings; Dried fruit composte; Pastries, coffee, nuts and candies.
“Pickled herring and boiled potatoes; Mushroom soup; Pierogi; Baked lake trout; Baked sauerkraut with yellow peas; Fish in aspic and potato salad; Rice ring with creamed shrimp; Jellied compote; Pastries, coffee, nuts and candlies.
“Appetizers: Pickled herring, individual salads, pierozki with mushrooms and browned butter; Creamed fish soup with dumplings; Pike fillet baked with cream; Baked sauerkraut and mushrooms; Pike in sauce; Cauliflower with crumb and butter topping; Fried fresh salmon and potatoes with tomato sauce; Prune compote; Poppy seed cake; Nut pudding; Pastries, coffee, nuts and candies.”
“For a long time, members of Polanie Club have felt the need for preserving in America some of the best Polish recipes. While there were Poles in the Jamestown colony, the Polish immigration movement did not reach its peak until after the participation of Poland in the nineteenth century. This migration lasted until the restricting laws were passed in 1915. Therefore, the Poles belong to the later immigrants and as a result many good cooks who have come from Poland are still among us. On the shelves of the libraries are Polish cook books, yellowing with age, sent to the United States when exchange of thought between Poland and other countries was free.
“TREASURED POLISH RECIPES for Americans is the result of research into these old precious cook books, invaluable help from good Polish cooks and the contribution of cherished recipes and cooperative help of all our members.
“We have chosen recipes for foods available everywhere in America, yet we have been tested. We found many that derected the use of ‘enough flour to make a still dough’ or ‘enough milk to make a pouring batter.’ Such recipes were carefully tried and the ‘unmeasured’ ingredient was carefully measured and made part of the recipe in standard of measures common in America.
“We are sincerely grateful to all who helpd us assemble this book.
“We hope the book will give our American cooks a new experience in preparing Polish foods and much pleasure and a real joy in eating them.
“POLANIE CLUB, Irene Jasinski, Marie Sokolowski, Editor.”
Sokolowski, Marie. Editor, Polanie Club, Polanie Publishing Company, Minneapolis, Minnesota; Copyright 1948, 11th Printing 1967.