This Christmas 2023, I’d like to pay tribute to the Polish Christmas Eve tradition, Wigilia, because I was lucky enough to be introduced to it last year by a great Polish lady, Ela Glinka, who bought my products on the site to offer as a very special Christmas gifts. And also, because I import my linen from the Baltic countries for the good reason that we haven’t produced textile linen in Quebec or Canada for a long time now, and that this linen is absolutely magnificent. For Ela, linen is also linked to precious childhood memories. Let her tell us the story and inspire us!
Wigilia, by Ela Glinka
Fragrance of freshly brought home spruce tree from our forest fills the entire house.
We, children cannot wait to decorate the tree, the Christmas tree. It is a real joy to decorate it with homemade ornaments. The month of December was always dedicated to making coloured paper chains, straw stars and various hanging ornaments with beads and straw. Rosy apples harvested in the fall were threaded and hung on strong tree branches. Our baked gingerbread cookies and bonbons wrapped in shiny paper brought by our uncle from the city were a real treasure for the tree. To complete the magical effect angel hairs and balls of cotton to imitate the snow were scattered all over the tree. And then small beeswax candles were clipped to the branches. We knew these candles could only be lighted with adult’s presence in the room.
Ela, aged 10 and the eldest of the family, poses with her siblings in front of the Christmas tree in 1958.
In the kitchen, 12 traditional meatless dishes are prepared for the traditional Wigilia, the Christmas Eve’s supper.
The preparations begin several days before with the fermentation of beets and rye grains, sprouting wheat berries and marinating the herring.
This is a very special supper. The whole family takes part in the cooking and baking. The children love to help babcia (grandmother) with making small dumplings stuffed with wild mushrooms, picked from the forest in summer. They roll out the dough and cut circles then watch how the magical hands of grandma turn them into small dumplings with mushrooms inside. They will be served with borscht, a red beet soup made with fresh and fermented beets (beet kvass).
Wild mushrooms and sauerkraut and various added spices, juniper berries being the main could be cooked into a dish or made into larger dumplings called pierogi.
Father’s favorite dish is herring marinated with spices, carrots and onions. He also likes to prepare the big fish, carp, a traditional Wigilia fish, then fry or bake it. Our mama likes to make the cooked vegetable salad with lots of fermented cucumbers during the summer and homemade mayonnaise.
When it comes to desserts, the kids are back in the kitchen, mixing and beating eggs with sugar until become thick and creamy . Their favourite is when grandma is not looking licking their fingers dipped into the creamy egg mixture. With the joint effort a sweet dessert, kutia with sprouted wheat grains, honey, nuts and dried fruits and poppy seeds is created.
There are other sweet things that babcia already baked, poppy seeds cake, piernik (gingerbread cake) and dried fruit cake. The good rye bread was also baked the day before.
To complete the food preparations a special drink called compote was made by boiling fruits in water. Dried apples, pears and plums, sometimes cherries made this traditional delicious Wigilia compote. These are the fruits of our land harvested in summer and dried in the sun.
Richness of farm grown foods and the aroma of spices from far away lands create unforgettable childhood memories.
The festive table
The dining table is beautifully set with the best linen tablecloth kept in the cupboard for just celebration of Christmas Eve. It’s a beautiful piece of fabric produced on the farm. Under the table, we place a small haystack brought in from the barn to symbolize the manger. We keep an empty place at the table for a missing family member and also, for a person or a family that we may meet, someone who has been waiting to know us for a while.
A pair of beeswax candles complete the beauty and elegance of the Wigilia’s dining table. Now that all is ready, the children wait with wonder for the first star to appear in the sky, a sign that Wigilia supper can begin. The meal begins with a prayer and the sharing of the oplatek (unleavened bread or white wafer), wishing everyone good health and prosperity. The twelve dishes are served in a very slow manner, so that everyone has a chance to taste them.
There would be no Wigilia without presents and St. Nicholas. The children wait for him with wonder, and also with worry. Will he bring a present or a rozga (a twig)?
Saint Nicholas knocks on the door and come with a bag of gifts. He asks each child how they’ve behaved. The well-behaved children get a gift, and those who have been naughty get a twig or a lump of coal. Gifts were often homemade: a wooden toy, a handmade doll, a hand-knitted woollen hat or sweater, linen handkerchiefs for grandma, a pair of woollen socks for grandpa.
To complete the Wigilia miracle, adults and children sing Christmas carols together. The words and melody of “The Silent Night” speak of that silent, magical night when time seems to stand still and animals speak at midnight.
The symbolism of Wigilia
Wigilia is not just a celebration, it’s a way of being. The empty space at the table, the hay of the barn, the sighting of the first star, the twelve dishes for the twelve apostles, the beautiful linen tablecloth, the breaking of the oplatek and its sharing with the animals at midnight, the carols, all remind us of the essence and depth of Wigilia, that Polish Christmas Eve feast. This symbolism is like a moment of silence, almost a meditation. It’s a marvellous pause that invites us to step outside in search of the first star. It’s also the magic of going to the stable to talk to the animals, who can also rejoice with us and comment on the advent of Christ on earth. Wigilia is part of my true identity. Who would I be without Wigilia? Wigilia unites. Our son-in-law, who grew up with the Wigilia tradition, proposed to our daughter. His dearest wish was “I want to marry you so we can live Wigilia together”.
Lin + Quotidien
When I found Le Lin Quotidien on the internet and contacted France, the owner, I felt a strong connection to my past, to my home. Her beautiful raw linen table linens, placemats and napkins, have found a special place into our family. We ordered it for Christmas. We immediately recognized the beauty of the workmanship and the natural elegance of the linen. But, it also reminded us of the symbolic value of all these things within our family. This beautiful link with France brought back memories of my childhood, not so long ago, when flax grew in the fields of many farms in Poland and other Eastern European and European countries.
In Poland, thanks to simple methods and tools, flax was transformed into yarn and then into linen fabric in our summer kitchen during the long hours of winter evenings. In the past, this fabric was used to make many essential items: clothes, bed linen and kitchen linen. I also have a vivid memory of a skein of linen spread out on our lawn to be bleached by the summer sun. Long live linen, which represents a healthier way of life for humans and the planet!