Many Christmas dishes have very old tradition. Some dishes are made out of products that are not very common to use anymore. Simply, many dishes are eaten just once a year, for Christmas! Partly because the preparation of dishes is time-consuming, partly because some products for preparation are not easy to purchase in any other time during the year (for instance carp fish).
Some Christmas dishes are common to every family in Poland but some are specific only to certain Polish regions. The traditional Christmas Eve supper in Poland is still a part of advent because it is consumed during Christmas Eve therefore only fish but no meat is allowed. Among fish the most popular is carp, sometimes herring or pike. The carp's preparation differs in different regions. In Silesia (Southwest Poland) carp is backed with parsley root (see January recipe link for carp with parsley, in other regions it is prepared as a fillet, fried, jellied, in sweet sauce, in beer-almond-ginger sauce or stuffed. It was already recorded that the usage of water is the lowest just before Christmas, since carps are occupying Polish bathtubs.
Polish carps are cultivated in the special ponds just for this Christmas event therefore they are bigger than the average carps in any other place on the world and supposedly more tasty. Also herring is popular in vinegar and onion, in creme or vine. Herring in vinegar and onions is also typical dish for Ash Wednesday in Poland.
Other traditional dishes present among all Poles is red borscht (soup from red beets) with dumplings filled with mushrooms or sauerkraut (on the photo) and dried fruit compote (usually from prunes). Here is more about dumplings (called "pierogi" in Polish). By the way, the mushrooms are usually from wild-growing species and are dried before using as a filling. North from Krakow people eat white borscht cooked on the essence of mushrooms. In Silesia special soup from hemp seeds (Polish "siemie konopne") with buckwheat groats (kasza gryczana) is still popular. This soup called in Silesian dialect "siemieniotka" is very good and revitalizing especially in winter but the preparation is time-consuming because the seeds need to be several times cooked in order to press enough essence (through the strainer) for soup. In another Polish regions fermented rye soup, fish or dry mushroom soup with noodles is eaten. Another dish consists of sauerkraut with wild mushrooms or peas.
Dessert is different in different regions. In Silesia dessert consists of poppy cakes made of poppy with bagels soaked in milk. In eastern Poland kutia (containing poppy seeds, honey, walnuts, currants, figs and dates) - a pudding dessert is very popular. Somewhere else people eat jelly with cranberries and a cheesecake.
In the summary, in spite of such variety of dishes in different regions and among different families there are some similarities, Christmas Eve (Wigilia) is meatless. The basic dishes for Christmas contain fish, mushrooms, sauerkraut, poppy seeds and dry compote.
During all the Christmas Eve children are reminded to be quiet so that baby Jesus will be comfortable to bring gifts around the Christmas three.
After the supper the family usually gather around Christmas tree, the gifts are distributed and the carols are sung. The last accent of Christmas Eve is usually a participation in Christmas mass at 12 in the church. This mass has a special name "pasterka" which can be translated into English as a "Shepherd's Mass". After pasterka people go home and have a glass of hot compote or vine. They can also eat a traditional Polish hot dish called "bigos" which consist of sauerkraut and sausage (since it is already a Christmas Day and lent time is over).
On the Christmas Day usually the leftovers from Christmas Eve are eaten. Also ham and meat and spice cake (Polish "piernik", German "Lebkuchen") made of flour, honey, almonds and other spices enrich the Christmas table. "Piernik" is like the ginger cookies that are popular in the USA.
Extensive selection of Polish carols is at: http://culture.polishsite.us/articles/art125.html
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