Wigilia Tradition

26 Dec

Wigilia (pronounced, Vee-gee-lia) is the traditional Polish Christmas Eve dinner. My family is from Poland, my parents came to the U.S. one year before I was born. Almost everyone in my extended family still lives there and my parents have spent half of their lives there so naturally we follow all the Polish traditions. This one is my favorite.

In Poland the tradition is to put up the Christmas tree on Christmas Eve when the first star appears in the sky. Once the tree is up the table gets set for as many guests there are plus one. The plus one is for the less-fortunate traveler, almost always there is an extra place setting at the table. There is also hay under the tablecloth as a reminder that Jesus was born in a stable.

We formed our own family tradition and place small gifts under the table cloth. This year everyone got a lottery ticket!

Me with my lottery ticket

Me with my lottery ticket

I was the big winner this year with $7! Woohoo!

Each part of the evening is filled with symbolism and the food is without exception. There are typically twelve different dishes at the table to represent the twelve apostles. Another tradition of Polish Christmas Eve is that none of the dishes have meat, that means plenty of potatoes, starches, vegetables and fish.

Before dinner we exchange oplatki. Oplatek is a small wafer. Everyone at the table gets a piece and then we exchange oplatki wishing each other well wishes for the new year.



We start our dinner with barszcz (borscht) a beet soup with mushroom filled dumplings.

Barszcz z uszkami (Borscht with dumplings)

Barszcz z uszkami (Borscht with dumplings)

Then we move on to a second soup sauerkraut with mushrooms and mashed potatoes.

Sauerkraut soup with mashed potatoes

Kapusniak (Sauerkraut soup with mashed potatoes)

Next we eat a few different types of herring. My favorite is herring with marjoram and fresh chopped garlic.

Sledzie (Herring with marjoram and garlic)

Then we move onto the rest of the dishes like this Polish vegetable salad. It’s reminiscent of potato salad but with about ten more ingredients.

Polish vegetable salad

Salatka jazynowa (Polish vegetable salad)

There are always at least two kinds of fish, there’s one battered and fried and one in vegetables. The fish is layered and folded in between a carrot puree.



Of course a Polish Christmas is never complete without pierogi.



I also strayed a little from the traditional foods this year and made some roasted acorn squash.

Roasted acorn squash

Roasted acorn squash

Here’s my first plate.

Joanna's plate

Joanna's plate

Before dessert we finish up the dinner with homemade noodles with sweet poppy seeds, raisins and nuts.

Kluski z makiem

Kluski z makiem (Noodles with poppy seed)

We also open all of our presents on Christmas Eve.

Christmas presents

Christmas presents

My dad got the most presents this year.

Dad with presents

Dad with presents

I’m fortunate to have a close family that spends the holidays together and is able to maintain our cultural holiday traditions. Growing up I thought that everyone had Wigilia like we did. Now that I’m all grown up I know it’s a special tradition and I’m happy to share it with you.

Do you have any unique and favorite holiday traditions?

11 Responses to “Wigilia Tradition”

  1. Gosia December 26, 2010 at 9:43 am #

    Beautiful pictures and a great documentation of our holiday tradition!! Nice twist on your own dishes, my healthy friend! Can’t wait to pick your brain for some recipe ideas! If its fresh homemade food, its all good for you- so long as its made with a little tender lovin’ care.. Wesolych Swiat Kochana! I’m grateful for the love we all have in our lives!

    • 40daykedge December 27, 2010 at 6:02 pm #

      Thanks hon! Thanks for reading, glad that this post can resonate with my Polish friends. It was so cool to write about it. I became very aware of how special and unique this tradition is when it had seemed so normal to me all these years.

  2. Gosia December 26, 2010 at 9:47 am #

    The belly rules the mind. ~Spanish Proverb

  3. sam December 26, 2010 at 2:54 pm #

    this looks so delicious and special! can i please sit in that extra seat next year? mmmmmm I can just taste the pierogies!!!

  4. Katherine: Unemployed December 27, 2010 at 11:33 pm #

    how wonderful! I absolutely love this post! what great images and traditions you have

  5. Danielle December 28, 2010 at 4:22 am #

    Love these traditions!! Looks like a Merry Christmas!!!

  6. Susan December 28, 2010 at 7:34 pm #

    What a special tradition Wigilia! I had the same reaction as Sam, though before today I had never known about it.

    • 40daykedge December 28, 2010 at 9:36 pm #

      Thanks Susan and everyone else for that matter! Next time you’re out wandering the streets in the Chicago suburbs on Christmas Eve we’ll take you in. HA! I really am so happy to have shared it with everyone.

  7. simplyshaka December 29, 2010 at 3:00 am #

    I am half Polish however my family isn’t really into tradition so I didn’t even know that traditions like this existed. Thanks for sharing all about it, I hope you buy yourself something nice with that $7!

    PS-I really need to make a huge batch of pierogies soon.

  8. Nagaap April 13, 2011 at 6:55 pm #

    What a lovely interesting blog especially the one about ‘Wigilia’! Am actually talking about festivals and traditions this afternoon at one of my classes, would you mind if I used your article about Wigilia? It happens to be one of the festivals I am talking about.

    • 40daykedge April 13, 2011 at 9:10 pm #

      Sure thing, you may use the article in your class. Thanks for reading.

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