In his latest monthly column, Welwyn Hatfield resident Michal Siewniak looks at Christmas traditions back in Poland.

Welwyn Hatfield Times: Michal SiewniakMichal Siewniak (Image: Michal Siewniak)

The smell of the Christmas tree, delicious food, cooking and baking, everyone rushing around trying to sort out last Christmas preparations.

Does it sound familiar? Although for most, Christmas often means madness, whether we are religious or not, I am certain that we all look forward to Christmas.

The Polish tradition of Christmas brings back some amazing memories.

As a child, I was lucky enough to travel to spend my Christmas with my grandparents and cousins. I loved it!

I am aware that some of the Polish traditions would “shock” some people today. As a start, we would eat fish. When I was a child, each Christmas a small carp would swim in my bath!

I have never been part of the “preparation team”, however “poor carp” would be eaten at Christmas.

Although the tradition of carp farming in Poland is at least 700 years old, it became an eminent part of Polish culinary tradition only after World War Two.

Christmas Eve dinner, also known as Wigilia, starts when the first star appears in the sky.

Welwyn Hatfield Times: Polish Christmas food photo from Taste It, a Polish restaurant in Hatfield Town Centre.Polish Christmas food photo from Taste It, a Polish restaurant in Hatfield Town Centre. (Image: Taste It)

Nothing is to be eaten until all members of the family have broken the Christmas wafers (opłatek) together and exchanged wishes for good health and prosperity.

During the meal, all of the guests should taste a bit of everything.

Gathering around the family table on Christmas Eve was truly special.

My family would start with a prayer. Traditionally, the Christmas table would “serve” 12 dishes, which would include beetroot soup, dumplings, fish and herrings.

The Polish tradition says that no one can be lonely on Christmas. Most of the dishes served are cooked specifically for this special day – and only once a year!

Although the Christmas meal is reserved for the closest family, it is a Polish tradition to set an extra plate and seat for an unexpected guest.

Interestingly, most Poles would celebrate Christmas Eve and possibly a bit less than the actual Christmas Day.

We would also open our Christmas presents on Christmas Eve.

According to tradition, bits of hay are spread beneath the tablecloth as a reminder that Christ was born in a manger. Many families, after the meal, would sing Christmas carols.

After hours of eating, there was always a need for something spiritual!

The Midnight Mass was a wonderful opportunity to welcome the birth of Jesus and celebrate this important moment in the Catholic calendar.

The Polish community in Welwyn Hatfield would like to wish the Welwyn Hatfield Times readers a joyful Christmas and a happy New Year!

PS: And if you “fancy” trying traditional Polish Christmas dishes, please visit the Polish restaurant in Hatfield Town Centre, Taste It, where you will be well looked after by Piotr and his team!