"If providence did beards devise,
To prove the wearers of them wise,
A fulsome goat would then, by nature,
Excel each other human creature." - Thomas D'Urfey

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Wednesday Words of Wisdom - Wigilia!

Weird looking word, huh?  Well, that, my friends, is Polish, to be exact.  You see, when the Goatmother was a little girl, her father's family got together every Christmas eve to celebrate Wigilia (Pronounced  Veh - LEE - uh ).  It is a custom common to many Poles, though there are apparently differences in exactly how it is celebrated.  But this post will be about how the Goatmother remembers it  (and we should be thankful she can remember anything, if you ask me.)

Now the Goatmother's paternal family came from the region of Poland which lies against the Carpathian Mountains.  Though the Carpathians feature strongly in some Vampire stories, the Goatmother's family contains no Vampires.  At least we don't think so ( The Little UnDead does not count, and please do not encourage him).  Anyway, back to Wigilia.  As previously mentioned, everyone gathered on Christmas eve.  Things began with a passing of the oplatek, which in this case, was in the form of 'host' wafers. ( The 'host', being the little flat kind passed out for communion at the old Catholic masses.)  Everyone went about the room giving a small bite to a family member, followed by a big hug and a kiss.  Oh, and you had to say 'Peace be with you'.  This hugging and kissing was good in some cases and a bit overwhelming in others.  Plus, can you imagine the difficulty in making one itsy tiny host last through twenty-three or twenty-four people?  I can only surmise there were no Ellas in the Goatmother's family.

Nonetheless, when all the PDA's were over, it was time for the meal.  There were twelve dishes, to begin with,  to symbolize the twelve apostles.  Each dish began on a bed of hay (always provided by the Goatmother's family because they were the only ones with livestock) to symbolize the baby Jesus lying in the manger.  This part was pretty nice, but there was a catch, especially if you happened to be a kid.  For you see, no spices or condiments of any kind were allowed for these twelve dishes, and one 'had' to take at least a bite of each dish passed.

The Goatmother can't remember every dish, but she remembers quite well having to choke down unseasoned boiled barley and peas.  Really it doesn't sound too bad to me, but then I guess I'm a purist at heart.  Heck the hay would have been delicious, if you ask me.  I suppose that's why no goats were ever invited.  There would have been nothing left for anyone else.  Anyway, the Goatmother remembers the boiled barley, peas, unseasoned pierogis with plain boiled cabbage inside, ones with prunes, and pierogis with dabs of cottage cheese (vegetable, fruit, dairy). The other stuff is pretty much a blur, but then we have to be thankful we got that much out of her.

After a taste of the twelve was over, the good stuff came out. The stuff with seasoning. There were always onions fried in butter and always cooked by 'Uncle Louie'.  There was borscht made by Grandma, which oddly enough was made with mushrooms and not cabbage.  There was Kapusta, a cabbage dish made with cabbage, sauerkraut and peas, and best of all, there were surprise pierogis filled with mystery ingredients like balloons!  And of course there were desserts - fruitcakes, cookies, and Rum balls!  Grandma always made 'Hrust', which were pastry rectangles, slit and turned inside out, then deep fried and dipped in powdered sugar.  Unfortunately the celebration was devoid of any Peanut dishes.  I know, because I asked.  What?  You knew I would.

And lest we forget, there was always a big bowl of punch dutifully spiked by 'Uncle Mike', who ironically always ended up crying and hugging everyone.  No one ever quite understood why 'Uncle Mike' cried, but it may have had something to do with the fact that there were no Vampires in the family.  Although, come to think of it, he could have been wrong and that was the reason onions were always fried and there was no garlic.  After all isn't tradition and myth always based somewhere in fact?  Actually, after further consideration, it may go a long way in explaining just exactly why the Goatmother is NOT a morning person.  Hmmm ...

After all the kissing, hugging, eating and crying was over, everyone proceeded to midnight Mass.  The Goatmother says it was always really hard to stay awake, but it was worth it to see the altar all decked out with lighted trees and an almost life-sized nativity.  Plus the choir was always on key.  For once.

Anyhow, that was years and years ago.  I wouldn't want to say exactly how many years because I do need to consider just who gives out the Peanuts.  The unfortunate part is that after Grandpa passed away, the family seemed to scatter.  No one got together for Wigilia anymore because everyone was living somewhere else. Today the Goatmother is a bit more 'eclectic' in her beliefs, but each Christmas she remembers, and sometimes she still makes borscht the way Grandma did.

And that, my friends, leads us to this Wednesday's Christmas Words of Wisdom:  Value your traditions.  They may not always be with you.  Besides, now I'm going to have to share my Peanuts.  Oy.

Be sure to tune in tomorrow.  I'm sure I can manage to dredge up something to be cheerful about.


J said...

Thank you so much for a slice of the goatmother's past. Most interesting. I make borscht all the time, but have never made it with mushrooms. Any chance the the recipe might be shared? I thought the Christmas Eve family ritual was endearing except for the unseasoned food. BLEH!

Mrs. Micawber said...

Thanks so much to the Goatmother for this fun and fascinating reminiscence! It makes my family Christmas traditions seem rather colourless by comparison. (Although we had unseasoned food too - all year long. The cooking gene skipped my parents' generation.)

I love hearing about customs from other lands and times.

Millie said...

Traditions are wonderful for humans, but I think I'll stick with the hay and peanuts.