Wigilia and Other Celebrations

Christmas Time

Today is our Winter Solstice, and starting tomorrow in my mind I will hear the voice of my dear departed father noting that the days are getting longer. Maybe it was his Celtic roots, but Dad always kept an eye on the weather, and also the days shortening or lengthening. Whenever we received a good deep snowfall on the fields surrounding our rural New Jersey home, he would call the snow the poor farmer’s fertilizer, since it would protect the ground and all things silently growing underneath during wintertime.

Wigilia is the Polish word associated with Christmas Eve, and the translation of the word is to await, or to watch. For Genealogy Sisters this was a holiday celebrated with family at supper time, eating a vegetarian meal and breaking the Christmas wafer known as Opłatki. Our Polish American mother would make a fish dish, like salmon loaf, and we would have herring in cream sauce, and other special vegetarian dishes. Under the table cloth would be a few wisps of hay and on top a small creche. Also, there would be a dish with honey, from our family’s bee hives, and we would use that to dip our wafers in after breaking off pieces and sharing with each other as we said little blessings. Later, we would go to Midnight Mass and sing the beautiful old Christmas songs, ending with my favorite, “Silent Night“.

The photograph above was from Christmas time in our Polish American home, showing our Grandpa in his home with some of his grandchildren. We had a tradition of not putting up our tree until Christmas Eve back then. As soon as my siblings and I were old enough, we were allowed to go out in the woods to chop down a pine tree or cedar tree, a few days beforehand, all by ourselves. We would drag it home, thinking it was as pretty as the tree in Rockafellow Square in New York City. As we got out the old glass ornaments we would remember our favorites from other Decembers. Looking at our old back and white family photographs, we now chuckle at the shapes of some of those trees, but with tinsel and colored lights hanging they were magical.

This year I’ve saved some delicious vegetarian pierogi in the freezer for Christmas Eve. Maybe my daughter and son-in-law will make a wonderful fish dish, like grilled salmon. My great friend, Adrianne, recently sent the peirogi and gołąbki (stuffed cabbage rolls) to me for my birthday, with Sto Lat wishes. These were such a fantastic surprise and they came from a place in Oil City, Pennsylvania, called Pierogi Palace. They were shipped frozen on a Monday and I received the package two days later still frozen. Oh, the wonders of  our modern age! Adrianne came from a Polish family in East Buffalo, New York, and I always love hearing her remembrances of her childhood. She also sends me wonderful links about Poland.

These peirogi came fully cooked, and I just heated them up with butter and onions, and served them with sour cream.
I couldn't resist sampling some of the pierogi!
I couldn’t resist sampling some of the pierogi!

In keeping with the roots of the wigilia word, our family sometimes now wait until Christmas Day, or the next day, St. Stephen’s Day, until we are all gathered around together to break the wafer. As we hold our wafer, we extend it to each of our family and friends at the table, and we crack off pieces of each others wafer, with blessings for the new year. Living in New Jersey, it was very easy to find these Christmas wafers at local churches or stores. This year, since I’ve moved away, my dear friend has mailed me two packets. This reminds me of the lovely wafers in Christmas cards that were mailed to us from family back in Poland when I was a child. Here below is the beautiful illustration on the package – they came from “The Christmas Wafer Capital of the World,” in Lewiston, New York – and were blessed and distributed at my old church in New Jersey.

Copyright 1996 - Christmas Wafers Bakery, P.O. Box 99, Lewiston, N.Y.
Copyright 1996 – Christmas Wafers Bakery, P.O. Box 99, Lewiston, N.Y.

I love the old traditions and also making new ones. When my daughters were younger, we started a family tradition of searching for a glass pickle ornament hidden deep in the branches of the Christmas tree.  Whoever found it received a special present just for them, and the glory of bragging rights. Some say the Christmas Pickle was a German tradition and other folks say it was a Victorian one. My daughters also have a tradition of watching the movie, White Christmas, at least once during December.  Although they live in different states right now, they enjoy sending a text message saying they have continued the tradition. This always touches my heart, because I remember curling up on the couch with my parents and siblings, watching the same movie, and singing the great tunes together, “Sisters,” “Count Your Blessings,” and especially “White Christmas.”

Sisters, Veronica and Maryann, at Christmas time.

Dear Readers, Today, on our shortest day of light here in the Northern Hemisphere, I wish you all a Happy Holiday! Whatever winter festival or holiday you celebrate, I wish you many blessings, and an abundance of love, joy, peace, and happiness in the New Year!

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