The Polish traditional Wigilia and its 12 dishes

The Christmas holidays represent the perfect time for long-awaited gatherings with our loved ones. As most of our readers know, the evening of the 24 December is referred to as wigilia in the Polish tradition. It is considered one of the most important moments of the year.

Wigilia remains a time of sacrifice and restraint for Poles. Nonetheless, after 4 weeks of Advent, Polish families gather around a well-garnished table to feast together. During Christmas Eve (or Wigilia) 12 different dishes are – ideally – served, and one chair is symbolically left vacant in the case of a last-minute guest. 

Why 12 dishes, one might ask. Well, The 12 dishes actually represent the 12 disciples of Jesus Christ, but also the 12 months in a year, and some even argue that it is because “12” is viewed as a lucky number in Polish culture when it comes to finances. 

Of course, this tradition of 12 dishes varies slightly depending on the region we are talking about. However, there are some general guidelines that are widely accepted as the rule of thumb. Wigilia usually starts with a bowl of barszcz czerwony (red borscht) and is followed by a mushroom soup. 

You can then expect some baked or fried fish dishes often accompanied by herring before being served pierogi, which consist of pouches stuffed with potato purée. The next culinary step is usually gołąbki (which can be described as stuffed cabbage rolls) accompanying a plate of sauerkraut. When it comes to the dessert, it could be a famous piernik (a sort of gingerbread) o a cheesecake known as sernik. 

Like many traditions, the typical Polish Wigilia is somewhat fading away with every passing decade. But there are still numerous Poles who do what they can in Poland itself as well as abroad to keep them alive. Concerning Christmas Eve, it is particularly challenging and time-consuming to keep up with the 12 dishes given that many of them require long hours of work and often need to be prepared several days in advance.  



Author: Sébastien Meuwissen


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