Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Christmas Eve

I did it! I prepared my first Wigilia. In addition to a few frantic phone calls to my sister, Marysia, I also know that without a doubt, my mom was with me today guiding me along. The strangest things would pop into my mind to remind me of another piece of the puzzle. Out of the blue, a little voice would remind me to include something or other that if I would've thought of after the fact I would've been disappointed. But, like I said, out of the blue these reminders would arise.

First, reminder came when I was bathing Madeline before church. I all of a sudden just *knew* what Madeline had to wear. My mom made green velvet dresses for both of my sisters and they eventually got hand-me-downed to me. All of us girls wore these dresses. When my mom passed away and we were cleaning out her house, I kept one of the dresses thinking that maybe one day Madeline would wear one. Who knew it would be so fast! I had the brainstorm to try the dress on Madeline and it actually fit! (Thanks for that whisper, Mom!)

Next dinner....Like I previously mentioned in a prior post, I wanted to try to meld some of the Polish and Russian customs together for the evening's dinner. But first, David occupied Madeline by watching "Santa Claus is Coming To Town" while I was finishing up dinner. For those of you familiar with the Polish customs, you will note how similar the two are. First, I was pleased to pull out the tablecloth that my mother used every year. Russians usually use a white table cloth to symbolize Christ's swaddling clothes. The Polish bake the plecionka (braided bread) to do this. As you can see, I placed the plecionka on top of a white cloth.

In Russia, a large round loaf of special Lenten bread is placed on the table to symbolize that Christ is the "Bread of Life". This bread is shared with family at the start of the meal. I did not make a special bread for this because I figured we already have the plecionka and the sharing of the bread idea is similar to the Polish wafer, opatek. In Russia, the mother will draw a cross with honey on each persons forehead and says a blessing asking for "sweetness and many good things in the new year". Well, we didn't do the forehead thing but we used the honey to dip the bread in. Also, the Russians include chopped garlic to symbolize life's bitterness. For that, I ended up making a garlic dipping oil with dill (for those of you familiar with the cuisine we ate while in Russia you'll remember they put dill on *everything*).

The table also included candlelight to represent Christ - "The Light of the World". While looking for a towel or potholder or something silly like that I came across a candle snuffer that my mom had. This was another "whisper" from my mom. The snuffer was in a totally oddball place that I can't imagine why I would have put it there in the first place. But the story of the candle snuffer is one that we would tease my mom about because she would tell us the story (every time she brought it out) of how she was determined to buy something inexpensive on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills and she purchased it for under $10 (in 1984). This was a silly joke with my mom and she made a big production about the candle snuffer each year. The table also displayed a figurine of Mary and Baby Jesus that my mom would place on the table (my mom whispered in my ear to remind me about that). I went to look for candle holders (which were my grandmother's) and the figurine was in eye view when I opened the cabinet. The opatek (Christmas wafer) was on a plate with hay with the Jesus figure from our nativity set. The Russians display hay as a reminder of the poverty of the place that Jesus was born. Also, my mom always had a Polish doll, that came from my Maternal grandmother, on the Wigilia table. I included this Polish doll but also had a Russian doll that we purchased when we were in Russia. And of course an extra seat was set for an unexpected guest (Jesus?)

The remainder of the food was typical Polish Wigila food but was also typical for a Russian Christmas Eve. In both cultures, the Christmas Eve meal is traditionally a meatless meal. However, in Russia, they make sure to serve 12 different types of food to symbolize the 12 Apostles.

So for our dinner, I prepared:
Herring with Rye bread
Mushroom soup (it turned out great!)
Dried Fruit
Garlic dipping oil
Breaded Fish "fry"
Cheese/Sauerkraut Pierogi
Parsley potatoes

The music I played was played each year at our house when I was a child, a record (now CD) of my great aunt and her 3 daughters (my cousins) singing traditional Polish Christmas carols.....very beautiful! The fact that they are related makes it so much more meaningful.

After dinner, we opened only a few presents. We will save the rest for tomorrow but it was sort of like an "appetizer" for Madeline. We next prepared for Santa by leaving out some milk and cookies (and carrots for the reindeer). Next it was off to bed for Madeline.....but not until Papa read her "'Twas the night before Christmas" And like the book says, "Happy Christmas to all and to all a good night!"


1 comment:

Patti said...

Merry Christmas! I enjoyed hearing about how you celebrated. I am part Swedish and Norwegian, so am unfamiliar with Polish traditions. The dress looked darling on Madeline! I hope to do some Russian traditions with Christmas next year. Unfortunately I have been under the weather since Sunday. Your "Christmas Lard" post cracked me up! I can relate. I've tried Weight Watchers before with some success, so I'll think about it. My pre-Christmas diet plan was getting the stomach flu - ugh!