by Reverend Czeslaw Michal Krysa, S.T.L.
Four weeks of preparation, called Advent, precede the Christmas season in Poland. This is a time for recollection and for taking stock of one's direction in life.
The Christmas season begins on December 25th and lasts until February 2nd: forty days set aside to celebrate Christ's birth. Nativity scenes and Christmas trees grace churches and homes throughout this joyful season.
The high point of the entire year happens on Christmas Eve when families serve an ancient ritual meal, called the Vigil Supper: and intimate evening celebration, Poland's joyous treasure, a true living heirloom.
The meal begins after a day of fasting, when the youngest child in the family sights the first star in the sky. At the family table under a white tablecloth lies a thin layer of hay as a reminder that Christ was born in a stable. Tradition holds that an even number of places are set at the table, with one reserved for Christ, or any stranger who may be far away from home on this important night.
Before eating, all present share the Christmas wafer, a symbol of familial unity. All hard feelings from the past year are forgotten, all transgessions are forgiven and good wishes for the coming year are exchanged.
The menu is always meatless in the spirit of preparation forthe fullness of Christmas Day.
The customs of the Christmas Eve Vigil Supper anticipate the most joyful family season of the year. The Vigil Supper open the Twelve Days of Christmas (December 25th to January 6th), initiating a festive season lasting in Poland, until the Presentation of the Lord among them, recalling the birth of a Child in a barn to parents of little means.
In the words of a Polish carol, Christ came to this earth "In the night's stillness". A warm embrace welcomes each family member home on Christmas Eve to celebrate in time-honored ritual and tradition of the Vigil Supper, which stills the heart and comforts the anxious spirit. Jesus literally comes home to celebrate the festival of our salvation at the family table.
This book is a quick and easy reference, step-by-step guide and international collection of folklore, stories, recipes, carols and decorations with never before published photos and black and white illustrations, glossary, pronunciation guide, and a regional map of Poland.