In a few of these Polish recipes, you'll find mentions of Wigilia. These recipes are 12 dishes that make up the traditional Polish Christmas Eve meal, which is eaten after sundown on Christmas Eve. The Polish word for Christmas Eve is Wigilia (pronounced VI-gee-lee-ah). Its root is like the English vigil: waiting for Christ to be born. At the end of the Wigilia meal, the family goes off to midnight mass at church.
There are usually 12 dishes in a Wigilia meal to symbolize the 12 apostles; though some families serve 13, because they include Christ in their count. The meal starts when the first star can be seen; this symbolizes the star of Bethlehem. Although The Wigilia is meatless (Advent, the season of penance, continues until midnight), it is still festive and delicious. The tradition of Wigilia, though centuries old, is still current in Poland. There is no fixed set of rules for what the 12 (or 13) dishes must be; the items in the meal change somewhat according to location and availability of ingredients.
Nevertheless, all of the dishes are traditional, and in addition there are many traditions for the serving of the meal. For example, some people place straw under the tablecloth to symbolize the manger in which Christ was born. Most families set an extra place, for the stranger who might be passing by.
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