Big Daddy's family is Polish, so when I joined the family I was introduced to the wonderful custom of Wigilia.
My family never did much of anything on Christmas Eve, and I felt like I was missing out on something. But my mother-in-law's family goes all out, with a tradition going back to their emigration from Poland in the early part of this century.
Earlier in December the family gathers to prepare the pierogi. A pastry board is used that was carried from Poland, and the recipe has similarly been passed down through the generations. Younger people are carefully instructed in the art of pinching--as the only thing worse than a leaking pierogi is mixing up the potato pierogi with the sauerkraut ones.
The pierogi are rolled, filled, pinched, dried, boiled, cooled and packed away for freezing until Christmas Eve. Everyone has a job to do and Pierogi Day is a lot of fun.
On Christmas Eve we gather at what Little Brother calls "Santa's House." About an hour before dinner the hostess calls for people to help fry the pierogi. When I first married into the family I was considered "too young" for the job. But a few years ago I noticed that high-school students were starting to take over the frying--I was suddenly "too old" for the job!
When the pierogi are all browned, the other courses are placed on the dinner table: sliced baked ham, mushrooms and gravy, rye bread, and sometimes a turkey or pasta dish.
Everyone comes through the kitchen to fill a plate, and we enjoy the delicious meal.
Next is the ritual of the oplatek. These are wafers, kind of like a Communion wafer, but sometimes colored and with pictures stamped on them. They are large rectangles. Each guest breaks off pieces of their oplatek and gives them to the other guests with a hug and a wish for a good year. During this ritual no one remembers that this one mixed up the pierogi flavors or that one didn't want to help fry--it's just a time to wish each other well. None of the other stuff matters.
The host of the party then gets everyone's attention and reads the Christmas story from the Gospel of Luke. We all sing "Silent Night."
At this point, the traditional Wigilia celebration is over and the party swings into full Santa mode. This is a family custom and is a lot of fun.
One of the grownups, on cue, mentions that they hear some jingle bells and banging on the roof. They encourage everyone to sing "Jingle Bells" to tell Santa where we are. Then Santa comes through the door! The Little Kids are completely thrilled. One lucky child is chosen to hold Santa's jingle bells. Big Kids in the family act as Santa's Helpers and hand him the gifts for each child which are piled up under the Christmas tree. Everyone at the party, no matter your age or size, will be called to Santa's lap to receive a gift and have a Photo Opportunity. When the gifts are all handed around and opened, Santa poses for pictures with each family and then with all the kids, big and small.
Santa leads us in a few Christmas songs and carols and then heads on his way.
Then it's time to enjoy a variety of homemade desserts, most of which involve chocolate, and we all head on our way.
A Blessed Christmas to all!