Polish Christmas Eve Traditions


For generations, most families at St. Mary’s Polish Parish have been upholding Wigilia traditions, which are rich with symbolism. The following is a brief overview:

PIERWSZA GWIAZDKA – THE FIRST STAR: Families wait for the first star before commencing their meal. It symbolizes the Star of Bethlehem. The Christmas tree lights should only be turned on at this time.

OPŁATEK: Before the meal begins and after the prayer, everyone takes a piece of Opłatek and goes around the table sharing it with the others who are present and exchanging blessings and best wishes.

SIANKO – CHRISTMAS HAY: A piece of hay is placed under the white tablecloth or sometimes in a glass bowl at the centre of the table. Sianko represents the crib where Jesus was born.

THE MEATLESS SUPPER: Wigilia marks the end of Advent and so, except for fish (like carp or herring), there is no meat at this candle-lit meal. Typical dishes (it is common to have 12 or 13 dishes) include soups (often red beet with uszka, fermented rye, fish, dried mushrooms), sauerkraut with beans, pierogi, sometimes noodles with poppy seeds and honey, sweet strudel, and a compote made with dried fruit.

THE EXTRA PLATE: It is the custom to set an extra plate at the table. The place is symbolically for Jesus but also for a stranger who may be in need of a meal or assistance. There is a Polish saying that “When a guest is at the house, God is at the house.”

KOLĘDY: After dinner, it is customary for the family and guests to gather to sing Christmas carols. In some homes, St. Nicholas visits in person at this time.

PASTERKA (MIDNIGHT MASS): The whole family attends the Midnight Mass and also Mass on Christmas morning.

Bóg się rodzi, moc truchleje, Pan niebiosów obnażony; Ogień krzepnie, blask ciemnieje, Ma granice nieskończony. Wzgardzony okryty chwałą, Śmiertelny Król nad wiekami; A Słowo Ciałem się stało i mieszkało między nami.

Cóż masz niebo nad ziemiany? Bóg porzucił szczęście twoje, Wszedł między lud ukochany, Dzieląc z nim trudy i znoje; Nie mało cierpiał, nie mało, Żeśmy byli winni sami, A Słowo Ciałem się stało i mieszkało między nami.

This beloved carol -- which we sing every Christmas in our church and in our homes -- was composed by Franciszek Karpiński in 1792. Pokój Pański, niech zawsze będzie z wami! Peace be with you!