Christmas is the most important time of the year for many Poles. Christmas Eve is called Wigilia in Warsaw, Poland. For them, Christmas Eve is a night when animals are able to speak and people have the power to predict the future.
It is a time for families to gather and reunite, and to remember loved ones who have gone before them. Families travel from all over the country to gather on Christmas Eve. Families unite for the most well organized planned meal of the year, Wigilia, the Christmas supper in Warsaw. According to tradition, pieces of hay are spread beneath the tablecloth as a reminder that Christ was born in a manger. An even number of people must be seated around the table or, tradition says, someone may die in the coming year. Wigilia is a family feast. In some places a vacant place setting is symbolically left at the table for the Baby Jesus or for a wanderer who may be in need, or if a deceased relative should come and would like to share in the meal.
The traditional Polish Christmas meal consists of 12 dishes, one for each of the 12 apostles. These dishes are usually meatless, though this restriction does not exclude the preparation of fish.
The appointed time to sit at the dinner table is that when the first star of Christmas can be seen in the sky. Traditionally, the meal is supposed to be Lenten, there is no meat eaten on Christmas Eve. Often there is compote of dry fruits. The rest of the evening is given to stories and songs around the Christmas tree. After the meal, it is time for them to exchange presents.
It is on this day that the Christmas tree is decorated. The Polish Christmas tree can be decorated with shapes cut from gingerbread, colored wafers, cookies, fruit, candy, straw ornaments, decorations made from eggshells, or commercially produced ornaments.
Midnight mass is a part of Poland’s Christmas traditions. On Christmas Day, Poles will eat a large meal, sometimes with a goose as the centerpiece. It is also, the day is spent visiting family and friends.