Many of you enjoyed my article on the Strangest Polish Christmas Eve Superstitions. When I wrote that, I thought I had heard it all. Well I hadn’t. So here’s even more Polish Christmas Eve, or Wigilia superstitions that were once very common in different parts of Poland:
Clean Up Your Act: In Polish villages on Christmas Eve, the day would start very early, before dawn. Villagers would run barefoot to the nearest river or stream to bath. A thorough cleaning foretold good health in the coming year and protection against skin infections and other diseases. In an age without proper medicine, people relied on such beliefs for comfort that they would live to see another Wigilia.
A Sunny Day Keeps the Husbands Away: Of course, Polish women found numerous ways to predict whether or not they would get married in the coming year. (It seems like they found excuses for this every freaking day, but I digress). If the weather was gloomy and dark that day, it meant that women would find husbands regardless of age, wealth or beauty. If the weather was beautiful and sunny, then only the most beautiful women in the village would get married in the upcoming year.
Picking colored strands of hay from under the table-cloth during Wigilia was another way girls predicted their marriage fortunes. Picking a green strand meant marriage before Mardi Gras. A yellow strand meant that the girl still had some waiting to do. Finally, a black strand meant eternal spinsterhood.
Kids Beware: Children had to behave extra nicely on Christmas Eve because if they were naughty and got punished, it foretold that they would have a year filled with spankings. Ouch! It was also customary for mothers preparing the Wigilia supper to smear their children’s faces with dough. This was meant to ensure that the kids would be healthy and full during the upcoming year. Considering that periodic famines gripped the Polish countryside, this superstition was another type of comfort to the family.
Decorating the Wigilia Table: The supper table was arranged and decorated in a very specific way to ensure good fortune during the coming year. Hay and oats covered the table to ensure a good growing season and plentiful food. On each corner of the four-cornered table was placed a loaf of homemade bread to represent full bellies during each of the four seasons. To protect the household from evil, an ax or chain was sometimes placed under the table (this had a secondary purpose of protecting the family members from their drunk uncle Franek when he went on one of his political rants).
Preparing for Dinner: If a man was the first guest to enter a home on Wigilia, it meant good luck for the upcoming year. A woman meant bad luck. LOL. Most people are familiar with sharing opłatek right before supper on Christmas Eve. There’s a darker side, however, as anyone who dropped their opłatek was destined to die within a year.
The Common Bowl: I have heard from many Polish Americans that they vaguely remember this practice from their Polish grandmothers. It involved everyone eating each dish out of the same bowl on Christmas Eve and lasted into the twentieth century, representing solidarity and the whole family being in it together.
Many of you wrote about your own experiences with Polish Christmas Eve superstitions in response to my first article. I’ve reprinted some of them here:
“Before the meal began, a Holy [blessed] candle was lit, everyone knelt, and the family said prayers. The meal was meatless and began with mushroom borscht, followed by homemade pierogi, mushrooms with gravy, saurkraut with peas (kapusta grokham) and boiled potatoes. At the end of the meal, the Holy candle was blown out and…if the smoke rose straight up everyone would be together next Christmas. Also, if the pink host stuck to the bottom of the potato bowl, there would be good luck in the coming year.” -Stacey
“After the food, a bell would ring and two figures would enter the room. One was Santa Claus and one was called Bulea (sp?). I always thought she was Santa’s mother, but an older cousin said she was some kind of spirit. She would make sure that we knew our prayers in polish and would give us a treat, usually a potato. But she was a scary figure, dressed in black with a cloth mask and carrying a stick to wield against anyone who displeased her.. My younger brother would hide under the table when he heard the bell.” –Christine
“If you cooked the wigilia you could not let go of the spoon you started using in the beginning; you had to use it till the end, and you had to serve with it and eat with it. Or at the end of the wigilia all the teenage girls in the family would gather the spoons, go outside and wait and listen to hear a dog bark. If the bark came from the North, your future husband would come from the North. Or after wigilia the teenagers would walk around with a big Gwiazga Betlejemska and they would Kolendować.” –Anna
“We do not eat anything with wings. Such as turkey,chicken etc. Otherwise all your money would fly away in the new year.” -Christina