08 Jan

Christmas. Location: Poland, Christmas Eve

Posted by Jenna, Under Holiday, Poland

When we arrived home we were greeted by the delicious smell of dinner in the oven. No wait, scratch that. Dinner in the microwave oven. Even though I’m told this is probably a  microwave convection oven, I’m still impressed that a regular oven doesn’t exist anywhere in the house and they are still able to put a delicious meal on the table.

To pass the time before dinner (and to distract ourselves from our grumbling tummys while we waited for a cousin to arrive from Warsaw) I decorated gingerbread cookies with That SIL. I wanted to make some homemade ones and bring lots of fun toppings with me, but in all the craziness before we flew out it didn’t happen. So I picked up a box from Target, and we did our best with sprinkles, gumdrops, and icing.

I parcticularly like That SIL’s creation on the left, which has two gumdrops positioned in a manner that looks distinctly like two cute little breasts.

A long time ago, on one of our first dates, That Husband told me about Christmas in Poland. One of my favorite holiday traditions he described was waiting for the first star in the sky to appear before starting the CHristmas Eve festivities. I spent a long time out on the porch searching for any stars, but the cloudy skies laughed at me and said “It’s not going to happen sister.” That FIL was really sweet and told me we could count the twinkle lights in the yard as the star this year.

While we waited for dinner I wandered around taking pictures. (Me, wander around and take pictures? I know you are just shocked.)

I love how simple and pretty their ornaments are. I confess I messed things up a little bit by giving my in-laws a Starbucks ornament as a gift, which looked quite garish comparitively when hung on the tree. But I didn’t know that in Poland they resist the urge to litter their tree with commercial items and other such sundry paraphenelia.

That MIL used to collect Buddhas (I hear she has moved on to dragons now), and so they are all over the living room. They’re all so happy.

I think this one is my favorite.

That FIL on the other hand, collects knives and swords. It’s AWESOME. I’m a girly girl and I even recognized just how sweet this collection is. They come from all over; Germany, Poland, Japan, etc.

These are actual medieval Polish weapons.

It was in the middle of all these photos, just a few minutes before dinner, when That Husband decided to inform me that his family dresses up in Sunday best for Christmas Eve dinner. WHAT??!?!? Good thing I brought my church clothes.

On my way downstairs to change I peeked out the window and realized it was snowing. A Christmas miracle! I love Christmas miracle snow.

Everyone gathered downstairs and I realized that I was the only one not wearing any red. That Husband!

That FIL started by reading the Christmas story out of Luke, while That Husband whispered the familiar story in my ear in English. We prayed (I believe That Husband had to catch himself because we don’t cross ourselves before praying, and everyone in the room did but us), and then the wafers were passed out.

Everyone goes around the room with their wafer, giving “wishes” to each other. Luckily they let That Husband and I go as a couple or I would have been really lost, since only about half those present spoke English. Wishes are exchanged (something like “I wish you health and happiness, and many children in the years to come”) and then each wisher breaks a piece of the other persons wafer off and eats it.

That Husband took a second to exchange wishes with his mother all on his own.

After all parties present had exchanged wishes it was time to sit down and eat!

Notice in the picture above that there are no glasses for beverages on the table. In That Husbands family (and I think throughout Poland) they don’t drink with their meal. They did have this fruit compote on the table, which was really delicious, but so sweet that my mouth was still dry after drinking up all the liquid inside.

That SIL taught me that it was okay to snack on my croutons before the soup was poured over them. That Husband and I were lucky to get a big bag of these homemade croutons to take home with us. They’re really delicious.

I learned the hard way that taking pictures of this soup is a bad idea. The croutons are best eated cruncy in the delicious buttery broth they are floating in.

Dinner was composed of three kinds of fish (I’m sorry I don’t know what they all were, one of them was carp), a potoato, and saukeraut.

All of the adults ate this dish, which I refer to in my head as “gelatinous fish”, since the fish is flaoting in some kind of clear gelatin. I was relieved when all of the “kids” (those of us in our 20′s) all politely refused.

That Husband had been looking forward to dessert all night. Poppsyseed cake! It’s composed of layers of moist bread and layers of a poppyseed mixture.

I call it “Opium Cake”.

After dinner we all moved to the upstairs living room for coffe and conversation. This would be the time of the night when little kids (if any were present) would be bouncing off the walls because they know it is almost time to open presents. Everyone politely ate the gingerbread cookies that Zu and I decorated, while I felt embarassed that they were all eating store bought cookies. I really should have made them myself.

Next to the cookies was another kind of poppyseed cake (this one much drier, more like coffee cake), and a very dry kind of cheesecake that I liked really liked. They also had some really amazing raspberry herbal tea for me to drink while everyone else had their coffee. That Husband informs me that Poland is a little bit famous for their tea selection.

To the right of That Husband is a cousin, who I believe is named Jacob, but that’s not how you say it in Polish and I was constnatly getting confused. The word they were saying sounded a lot like Koopa to me, so that’s what I called him.

At dinner they asked me if I would like to be the “Christmas Angel” when it came time to hand out presents, but I was nervous about reading everyones names in Polish (let alone remembering all of them), so I begged That SIL to help me out. It’s a good thing because I only guessed who the present beloned to correctly about 10% of the time.

Present opening time, was a little bit crazy. You see, none of the presents had a “from” category, just a “to”. So I had no idea where all the gifts I receieved came from. That Husband told me not to worry about it, but how am I supposed to accurately write thank you cards?

That SIL gave us yummy gingerbread cookies.

I was just feeling relieved that my Christmas angel duties were done. We gave out lots of Ovaltine and peanut butter chocolates. Apparently Butterfingers are the house favorite.

See that ring on his left hand? I really really want him to wear it as a wedding band, since the one I gave him on the day of our wedding is too larg for him, but I think it’s a bit heavy for his taste. I love it though! It was the military ring of his uncle, who was quite a famous jeweler in London. Apparently he fashioned a piece for Queen Elizabeth II!

Enjoying our spoils.

We brought over Othello for That SIL and it turned out to be a hit! That FIL and That Husband had quite the intense matchup. I think we’ll bring over boardgames whenever we fly over from now on. Board games and peanut butter candies.

We ended the night on a sweet note, with some delicious “Krakow Cake” made by That GIL (Grandma In-Law). This was my favorite Polish dish by far!

16 Comments


  1. Mmmm…that last picture looks SO yummy!

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  2. It’s so interesting to read about the Christmas (and any celebrations) of a different country.
    I love the decorations in the Christmas tree, my Mom has some very similar ones at home, I really love them because of the natural material used and the simple shapes.
    Again the food looks amazing, you should start a Polish cookbook!

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  3. Yay! I’m glad you liked your first Wigilia! And I definitely hear you on not being sure what to do the first time around. It’s so much fun feeling like a pro the next year! :-)

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  4. This whole trip looks amazing. You got to see and taste and experience so many new things! I hope it wasn’t too hard being so far away from your family for Christmas. You lucked out getting to pass on that “gelatinous fish”. I was drooling over everything but that. :)

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  5. I swear, Poland looks so wonderful. I’m so impressed with your documentary skills, I would have abandoned the camera. My family makes a poppy-seed cake but it looks NOTHING like any of these. Also, it is ridiculously hard to make. I like the look of these better :)

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  6. Oh luck you are my dear. You get experience Christmas in two different cultures, all with Family. I love their traditions!! I want to go back and raise you with so many cool traditions…let’s have a do over.

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  7. That Mom-Yes, but we have the Christmas sock!

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  8. I want a wishing tradition! That seems really cool.

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  9. Oh my gosh, I am laughing so hard… you called Jacob “Koopa”? That is the most awesome thing I have ever heard. I am wondering if I should tell you what that “koopa” actually means in Polish – I don’t want you to feel even worse about not pronouncing it correctly. (BTW, what they were saying was Kuba, pronounced “kooba”… short little nicknamey thing for Jacob. Makes NO sense whatsoever). Oh ok fine, I can’t bring it up and leave you hanging. “Koopa” means poo. But seriously, if they heard you replace the ‘b’ with a ‘p’ (which they probably didn’t, because you would have heard this by now) I am absolutely 100% positive they thought it was completely adorable. Who wouldn’t? You totally are!

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  10. Yes, what you pictured is indeed a combination microwave/convection oven. My husband had one in his apartment for 2 years before we moved in together (to a place with a normal American kitchen). While I am totally fascinated with the mechanics behind it, and it is a fantastic space saver for a small space, cooking dinner was always quite a challenge — his held nothing bigger than a 9×13 inch dish, and I could either bake OR microwave components of dinner, but not both.

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  11. I love the chairs you and “that husband” are sitting in the picture with the caption “enjoying our spoils.” I want to come to Poland and visit you when you live there!!

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  12. what a fantastic christmas! that last cake looks so yummy. now i want cake.

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  13. i love the traditions you experienced! i’m so jealous…

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  14. Love it! Love the differences between cultures. Love your recounting of it all, too.

    And I never drink my beverage at mealtimes, either. I’d fit right in at a Polish dinner table!

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  15. This is fascinating. Not drinking with meals and not writing from whom gifts are on the labels all sounds like madness, eh? But I’m sure there are plenty of equivalents the other way around. Hey… do the in-laws know about your blog? I would love to read a guest post from That SIL!

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  16. Cate-I’ll bring the idea up with her, although I fear she may say no because she would be nervous about her English. It’s a great idea though!

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      I'm a farm-raised almost-crunchy stroller-pushing picture-taking lifestyle-blog-writing gastronomy-obsessed divine-seeking thrift-store-combing cheese-inhaling pavement-pounding laughter-sprinkling lover of individuality and taking chances.
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