Sunday, December 17, 2017

Christmas Eve & New Year's - Preserving our Polish Heritage


Our traditional Christmas Eve supper (Wigilia)  is in just a few days. There are a lot of stories circulating discussing Wigilia traditions in great depth and talking about the history, meanings and significances of all the little details and nuances.  Those writings are interesting but today not so practical for many of us.  Over the time of several generations being removed from the old country, many traditions have become less strict and families have adapted to modern values and cultural comfort zones.
Yet, it is the responsibility of the family leaders to not let go of the traditions completely.

When Peter was young, his parents faithfully followed most of the big ones...starting Wigilia at the light of the first star, sharing the wafer (oplatek), setting an extra place at the table for the wayfaring stranger, 12 meatless course for supper, and so on. 

But Peter’s parents are no longer with us and our daughter is an adult with her own family.  Travelling to our house for Wigilia and then getting home for their American Christmas Day celebration makes life more complicated.   So the practicality of 12 courses starting at a strict time with the light of the first star becomes less important than making sure the celebration is stress free and focuses on the family.  Not everyone at our table eats fish and we’ve cut back the 12 courses for health reasons.  
But no one will be wearing jeans or a ball cap because after all Wigilia is special and only comes once a year. 

We still make our wishes for each other with the sharing of a wafer from Poland.  We’ve gotten away from a few of the less popular heritage dishes, but we each have something traditional on the menu that is special and beloved.

Each of the dishes we enjoy for Wigilia is in our book: Polish Classic Recipes:  

Crepes with Sauerkraut & Mushrooms
Classic Barszcz (beet soup)
Vegetables Polonaise
* Baked Fish with Mushrooms & Cheese

Holiday Nut Roll
Honey Cake 
And multi-national holiday goodies exchanged with the neighbors


If you aren’t going out this year to celebrate New Year’s Eve, you could host a dinner party for friends or family (or certainly both).  Make it easy on yourself, plan a delicious menu (from our book) and ask everyone to bring a dish.   For us it’s gotta be comfort food that goes best with the adult beverages to be consumed that night.

Greet everyone with a favorite cocktail or a glass of bubbly.  As an appetizer, serve a selection of pretty canapés made up that afternoon.  Use round crackers or cocktail squares of dark and light rye bread...see how creative you can get with stacking the ingredients. 

For the main course, you can’t go wrong with Hunters Stew (Bigos).  It’s a big-flavored savory dish that can be made up several days ahead of time.  Have a bowl of baby boiled potatoes nearby that have been drenched in butter and sprinkled liberally with dill.

 Some of our friends like an ice-cold Polish vodka with their Hunters we’re always ready with our favorite Polish vodka (Luksusowa)   but there will be no pressure on those that choose a non-alcoholic drink. 

If the group is larger, you may want to have one or two additional dishes.  If you have access to good smoked kielbasa, buy two or three varieties, slice them into ½ inch rounds and serve with Cwikla, the traditional Beets With Horseradish garnish that takes less than 5 minutes to whip up.  YUM...the hotter the better!

Early in the evening, keep the beverages flowing.  But you also have a responsibility to keep track of how much your guests imbibe.  Closing down the bar early, and switching to decaf coffee, well before folks start going home, is the right thing to do.

Finally, about 11:30 pass out the cheesy hats and noise makers, throw on the TV at 11:55, watch the ball drop in Times Square, kiss your honey, and if you’re like us, start thinking about heading home before the crazy drunk drivers take over the roads.  Get your beauty sleep and prepare for the next day’s football games or holiday movies.  Keep the left over Hunters Stew for a quick meal that doesn’t require cooking, because it will be even better after the flavors have had a chance to marry.  So good! Wszystkiego najlepszego na Nowy Rok (all our best wishes for 2018)!Peter & Laura!

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