I simply had to photograph my Polish cousin’s fridge at Christmas, filled with Polish produce. At this precise moment though, it doesn’t include the dishes that were on the table, ready for us all to eat. As fridge space was at a premium, most of the dishes on the table weren’t going to grace the fridge at all. Anything that remained was going to be carefully packed away in foil and plastic tubs and put safely on the freezing balcony outside.
Christmas Eve (Wigilia) Fish… but no drink
Christmas in Poland is quite different from Christmas in England. While my Polish parents and I celebrated Christmas together at home in Yorkshire many times, my first ever Christmas with an aunt and cousins in Poland was unforgettable.
The Poles celebrate Christmas Eve most of all and this involves a family meal consisting of a vast array of fish dishes. And unless my family in Poland is the exception, they don’t drink alcohol on Christmas Eve either. Now I’m not a big drinker at all, but knowing how much Poles like a tipple, this news came as quite a shock!
Food and customs
The cousin we were staying with had gone to a great deal of effort to prepare a HUGE array of fish dishes for us all – carp, salmon, herring in various forms. I would say a table about three metres squared was simply loaded with pickled fish, fried fish, baked fish and stewed fish!
I think my mother who was Polish stuck to the fish only principle too, although may have relaxed that rule a little as the years went by. I remember she used to put a little hay under the tablecloth to symbolise Christ in the manger and when the first star came out, that was the moment we could open our presents.
The next day (Christmas Day), Polish Mass was standing room only – everyone was packed together like sardines – and after a light (ahem, heavy) lunch consisting of more fish and now meat – it was a visit to the live crib in the town – plus a trip to the cemetery. I’ve never done this in England, go to remember late relatives at the cemetery at Christmas time, but in Poland the custom is to go and light candles and lay flowers on the graves of our beloved ones. The atmosphere was quite special and the whole place was lit up with different coloured candles, so that all we could see in every direction was a sea of tiny, flickering flames.
Getting lost during a simple stroll
On Boxing Day (St Stephen’s Day in Poland) we went out for a short walk – the roads were white with snow. We went into a sort of emergency corner shop that just happened to be open several blocks away, just to see what they had in there, then when we went out, we realised we were lost. We asked an elderly gentleman who was waiting for a bus just outside the shop the way home (fortunately we’d photographed the complicated name of the street on our phones). He went to great lengths to explain the directions to us, to the extent that the bus he was waiting for sailed past! We felt terrible that he’d missed his bus on a day when the service was likely to be virtually non existent – however, he didn’t mind in the least and said he’d walk around to another stop. We then saw him again a little later at this other stop, quite a way away, talking merrily to another elderly gentleman – perhaps maybe even missing his second bus! Then when we finally arrived home, boiling in all our layers, but with our faces frozen, we spotted him on a bus, waving to us as it went past!