A Polish Christmas

Pipestone Flyer

Members of the Edmonton based Mazur Group provided entertainment for the Polish Christmas fundraiser event held at the Warburg Cultural Centre.

“We (the Warburg Cultural Society [WCS]) were looking for a different type of fundraiser for the Warburg Cultural Centre that would promote culture. After all, we are a Cultural Centre!”  Then, Helen Spasoff, WCS Treasurer, thought back to her family roots and casually made a suggestion that would busy her life for the next few months, 

        “You mean…like…a Polish Christmas?” 

        And in the timeless tradition of, “Do we have any volunteers? Please step forward!” as everyone takes one step backwards…, she laughs, “Everybody said, ‘Yeah, go ahead Helen!’”

                Go ahead Helen did!  Thanks to the dedication of Helen, WCS President Linda McLaughlin and other WCS volunteers, 120 guests at the WCS Christmas Gala on November 30, 2013 experienced a heart-warming traditional Polish Christmas—complete with oplatek and an upside-down Christmas tree in the entryway, a fabulous meal and entertainment by ten members of Edmonton’s Mazur group who inspired the crowd with traditional Polish entertainment—dances and singing.

            “In the Polish tradition, Advent starts four weeks ahead,” said Helen. “Cleaning and baking ahead of time is important. We have this belief that if a house is dirty on Christmas, the house will be messy the rest of the year.”  

            On December 6 Santa visits the children. The big event is Christmas Eve or Wigilia, which means vigil. In many homes, the table includes an extra place setting—for Baby Jesus, unexpected guests or for honoring departed family members. Hay or straw, representing baby Jesus in the manger, is first placed on the table, under the white tablecloth. It lies flat so you would not know it is there.

            Children are sent to watch for the first star to appear. When they see it, they happily announce, “It is here. The star is here!” This represents the star that led the Magi to Jesus and signals the start of the meal.

        Christmas Eve marks the end of Advent. Traditionally, that meant the last day of fasting, so in mostly Catholic Poland, the dinner was typically meatless. 

            At the start of dinner, just after grace, comes the sharing of the oplatek.  Oplatek is a very thin, translucent white flour rectangular wafer that is sometimes called Angel Bread or Christmas Wafer. It is typically embossed with Christmas or Nativity scenes. 

        The head of the household takes the wafer and expresses his hopes for his wife in the new year. He might wish her good health, or ask for forgiveness for some fault.     

            The wife breaks off a piece of the oplatek and eats it. She then reciprocates the good wishes and shares the wafer with her husband. And the ceremonial sharing of wafer and good wishes continues with older relatives, guests and children, starting with the oldest. 

            Then, twelve meatless dishes representing the twelve apostles are served (thirteen in some regions to include Jesus). Fish and other water dwelling creatures were not considered meat and may be a part of the meal. After visiting, the family heads to church at midnight.  

            There is no cooking on Christmas Day—only reheating.  It’s the day for enjoying visits with extended family.  The day after Christmas Day is for entertaining family, friends and neighbours.

    While the WCC group tried to recreate the traditional Polish Christmas, there were some elements that could not be done for safety reasons, like the live candles on a live tree.  The large tree on stage was decorated in the traditional way—with foil-wrapped walnuts, apples, candies, honey spice cookies, gingerbread cookies, a chain garland, and “candles.” 

            Mazur loaned a dozen Polish costumes from various regions of Poland that were placed on the walls as décor or worn by Warburg Cultural Society members. Guests at the Gala enjoyed a variety of Polish wines, vodka and beer. 

        How do you wish someone a Merry Christmas in Polish? “Wesolych Swiat!”