After the First Star
appears in the sky and after sharing the Christmas wafer (opłatek), the Supper begins. A traditional Christmas meal in Poland includes fish dishes and Borscht (beetroot soup) with Uszka (ravioli). Fish provides a main component of the Christmas Eve meal across Poland; since 1940 more popular are carp fillet, carp in aspic etc. Wigilia is observed as a Black Fast meaning that most Poles abstain from eating meat on this day. Many households also prepare a great variety of special Christmas rollmops, matjas herring, poppy seed cakes (makowiec), dried fruit compote and other delicacies including edible Christmas ornaments. Common dishes are various fruits (dried apples, plums, apricots, dates, etc.) and salads. Regional dishes include żurek, siemieniotka (in Silesia), mushroom soup, different salads, pierogi filled with cheese and potatoes as well as cooked dried mushrooms and cabbage (kapusta) or cabbage and yellow peas; stuffed cabbage with mushrooms and rice gołąbki (cabbage rolls), kluski with poppyseed, kutia, and makówki (in Silesia).
It is still believed that whatever happens on Wigilia has an impact on the following year. So, if a quarrel should arise, it foretells a quarrelsome and troublesome year.
The number of country courses is traditionally established to be either twelve or an odd number (in Silesia); Twelve is symbolic of the number of months in the year as well as to celebrate the twelve disciples of Jesus. Children usually decorate
the Christmas Tree
on this day (if it has not been set up before). Often a bundle of hay is placed under the tablecloth or in each of the four corners of the room to symbolize the fact that Jesus was born in a manger.
Another tradition practiced by some, is to leave one extra place-setting for an "unexpected guest". This is to celebrate the tradition of hospitality and inclusion. The empty seat is left open just in case a traveler, family member, or a friend knocks on the door, so there would be a place for them to join in the celebrations.
Family members begin the celebration with a prayer and breaking of the Christmas wafer (opłatek - symbolizing the bread eaten daily — our day-to-day common life; very old Christian tradition of sharing bread) and wishing each other good fortune in the upcoming new year. (After the prayer, usually done by the man of the house, the opłatek is broken and pieces are given to everyone attending the table. From there, everyone breaks off a piece of their opłatek, and shares it with everyone else, wishing luck and joy in the upcoming year, for Christ has been born. This wish is usually finalized by a kiss on the cheek.) Readings from the Bible concerning the nativity of Jesus are practiced in more religious households. In the countryside, it is customary to feed livestock (though not dogs, cats, and other pets) with the wafer, as the animals of the household are to be treated as people that day and are traditionally believed to speak with a human voice at midnight.
Libera Carol of the Bells