Monday, December 22, 2008

Happy Wigilia, y'all.

My favorite part of the Christmas holidays is spending Wigilia together - the traditional Polish Christmas Eve dinner. Where I grew up in the Chicago suburbs, it was easy enough to find traditional Polish items. In fact, it was hard not to. Here in Indiana, we're a little further South and a lot less Polish. I think the nearest Polish Deli is in Hamtramck. Fortunately, I've got a caravan hauling Polish goods in on I-65 so we'll be set for the holiday. I'm importing not just one but two 100% authentic Polish Grandmothers so that if one gets a virus we have a hot-swappable spare all booted up and ready to go.

In past years I recall, family would gather at my grandmother's and grandfather's house in the afternoon after work on Christmas Eve and help to prepare the last few dishes together. Most things, like the mushroom soup, were made already and the fragrant delicious smells were thick in the house and would set my tummy to rumbling. There would be a festive red-and-green lima bean dish, a steaming hot cauliflower, and sauerkraut. Ick.

I waited and saved my appetite for pillowy fried pierogi, baked fish, cocktail shrimp, and olives and pickles and beets. And potatoes, with a side of potatoes. There was also crusty rye bread and fresh rolls. Yum. Note there was no meat, as the dinner was a vigil and fast day in the religious tradition. The meal started traditionally with the sharing of oplatek, where we broke flatbread with each other - the bread was similar to communion wafer bread - and gave wishes to each other for the new year. These run from the traditional "may you have a prosperous year ahead" to the wacky, "live long and prosper".

My grandma would never admit to being a trickster, but we were always careful to watch where the sauerkraut pierogi ended up so that we could avoid them in favor of the cheese or fruit varieties. It was like an evil shell game where, if you lost, you had to stomach the vile cabbagey thing and stare plaintively at cousins gobbling up the last few cheese pierogi. Utterly unfair.

Dinner was particularly scrumptious as we kids were told we could not eat until there was a star in the sky; on an overcast day, that could take a while. The hunger never made the sauerkraut palatable, but it was a near thing and we almost lost one cousin to an early-served plate of the vile stuff before we distracted him with a kolache. In the event of a service delay due to tardy constellations, someone with exceptionally sharp eyes was usually called out to 'see' the first star so that we could eat.

I'll be hosting the meal this year, and trying to give my boys some ethnic memories to save for their old age. I posted my dinner menu for Wigilia too. If you pass by and see me out hunting gwiazdka, don't worry - it just means the fish isn't done yet and I'm pursuing a delaying tactic. It always worked for Grandma.

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