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Christmas in Poland.

In Poland, an elaborate tradition called Wigilia is celebrated. Beginning on Christmas Eve, a strict 24-hour fast is observed which ends with a huge Christmas feast. In honor of the star of Bethlehem, the meal cannot begin until the first star of night appears. Though Christmas is Poland is officially known as Boze Narodzenie, it is most often referred to as Gwiazdka, which means "a little star." Once the star appears, a special rice wafer blessed by the parish priest called oplatek, is broken into pieces and shared by all.Everyone at the table breaks off a piece and eats it as a symbol of their unity with Christ. According to tradition, bits of hay have been spread beneath the table cloth as a reminder that Christ was born in a manger. Finally the meal can begin. Traditionally, there is no meat served during "Wigilia." Still, the meal is plentiful and luxurious. The traditional Christmas Eve supper consists of twelve dishes representing the twelve months of the year or one dish for each Apostole (beliefs vary depending on the region of Poland). As I heve mentioned before, no meat is served during the supper, only fish, usually herring, carp or pike. Other traditional dishes appearing on the table include red borscht, mushroom or fish soup, sauerkraut with wild mushrooms or peas, dried fruit compote and kutia, a dessert especially popular in eastern Poland. Boiled or fried pierogis, Polish dumplings with a wide variety of fillings, are among the most popular Polish dishes. For the Christmas Eve supper, pierogis are usually made with sauerkraut and mushrooms.

The table is always set with one extra seat in case a stranger or the Holy Spirit should appear to share the meal.In some places an empty place setting is left at the table for the Infant Jesus.

The remainder of the evening is given to stories and songs around the Christmas tree. It is decorated with nuts, apples and ornaments made from eggshells, colored paper, straw, and painted. Christmas gifts are tucked below the tree. At midnight, kids are put to bed and the elders attend "Pasterka," or Shepherd's Mass.