I love Christmas. I love everything about the season. I love the anticipation of the holiday right after Thanksgiving, the crisp air, the twinkling lights, people saying Merry Christmas, Christmas cards, red wine, Midnight Mass, the delicious food, family discussions, opłatek (a wafer used as part of the Polish Christmas tradition to give each other good wishes for the coming year), the extra plate set out for Jesus, red barszcz (red beet soup), the handmade ornaments, the smell of kompot (compote-a warm mulled fruit drink) the music and, well, just everything.
The fun part is going to the Polish stores and getting all the traditional food for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. There is no meat eaten on Christmas Eve. In fact, Poles fast on Christmas Eve until it becomes dark outside and you can see the first twinkling star.
You always have to have Karp (Carp). I really don’t like this specific fish, but it’s one of many fish out on the table, since you never have meat on Christmas Eve. A couple of years ago, I read how fishing for carp is a sport in England, and people spend a lot of time and money stocking up lakes and ponds with the fish. However, a lot of Poles that have emigrated to the UK have been fishing for it and eating it instead, which causes contention. But, hey, you have to eat karp on Christmas Eve! Who can argue with our many years of tradition?
Some of the other fish on the table are szczupak (Pike fish), sledz (herring), Bass and tilapia.
There have to be at least 12 dishes of food on the table and no meat, but we buy the meat for Christmas Day. Having a limitation likes this and fasting makes us appreciate having meat on Christmas Day and makes it even tastier than normal.
The opłatek is a very special moment. We share this wafer with each other. Everyone takes a little piece and we go around to each other and share our wishes, thoughts and love toward each other. Sometimes, if the mood strikes, we apologize for things in our past and we cry.
Red Barszcz (red beet soup) starts the dinner. Inside the soup are uszka (small mushroom dumplings). This savory delicacy is something I look forward to all year.
Pierogi filled with mushrooms or cheese or fruit are a staple to any Christmas dinner and you can never have enough beets, in shredded or soup form. My favorite dish is the herring fish. This year my father outdid himself prepared it with oil and onions. It was unbelievable. We are the only two that eat the dish, but we ate everything and had to ask a friend to bring some more on Christmas Day!
And of course, there is always dessert that includes Poland’s favorite seed, the Poppy! Makowiec (2% poppy seed, 98% sugar, it’s a pastry with layers of dough and poppy seed) and Mak noodles, which are just noodles with poppy seed.
Now, I’m off to open Christmas presents, since we open our presents on Eve and not Day in the Polish tradition! Merry Christmas!