How different my holidays are from when I was a child, part of a large extended Polish family, for whom Vigilia (Christmas Eve) was a major event, with all of the traditional foods and traditions.
The only thing I have left is one ornament that says Merry Christmas in Polish.
After I got divorced, since my kids would spend Christmas Eve with me and Christmas Day with their Dad, we started our own food tradition. I let the kids choose. They wanted a meat fondue. And we continue that tradition today. Having to wait for our chunks of protein to simmer until ready means that we have to sit around the table for a while (unlike our usual “eat dinner together and then go our separate ways”).
We tend not to eat beef, so we usually have chicken; but this year we broke with tradition so that Lex, my grandson, could try beef. (Which, unfortunately, he likes.)
We did manage to make and decorate some cookies — from Baby Yoda (which Lex devoured rather quickly) to the wreath “painted” by my art-major son-in-law. (I have to say that I love that Lex wears the “Jughead” hat I made for him all of the time.)
My daughter has successfully installed replacements for the traditions I left behind. Over the past week or so, she has cooked dinners from the various ethnic traditions of our genetics — German, Swedish, Lithuanian. We often have Polish and Italian food, so there was no need to repeat those. And it’s a Christmas Eve tradition for us to watch Polar Express together after dinner while we have dessert. I decided to forego yet another watch and retired to my computer to struggle with this post. (I am still have problems using this new fangled WordPress platform; but I’m intent on figuring it out; I have been at it for three hours now.)
Somewhere in Yonkers, my younger cousins are feasting on their home made pierogi, carrying on the old traditions,using recipes that have been handed down for generations. I have yet to find store-bought peirogi that come anywhere near those our mothers made. I’m too lazy to do all of the work to make my own.
I don’t know if they sing Polish “kolendy” (Christmas Carols), but I know they get their families together and share old memories. I’m not in touch with them these days because he is their president, and he’s not mine.
I have fond memories of those Polish Christmases as a child. I probably don’t remember them the same way that my cousins do.
I’m a poet. I am all Eye.
December 24, 1948
There is no mistaking this immigrant clan
for anything but a matriarchy,
bringing from its Polish homeland
the fundamentals of family, earthy foods,
a deference to the will of the grayest female.
The men earn hard money, revere their vodka,
as it was on the farms of the old country.
The rest is woman’s right and work.
So, when the magical time of Vigil Eve draws near
the men disappear into their smoky enclaves
to share sad fatherland memories,
while the women gather in her kitchen,
a determined lineage of daughters,
by birth and marriage, armed with
the culinary legacies of generations.
For days, they roll, flour, fill, and pinch,
while we children sit on the floor, eye level to legs,
playing with scraps of pasty dough,
lulled by the soft humming of female voices,
the steady rumble of snowy urban streets.
The night flows with prayers and feasting,
as families gather at the gray lady’s call,
reviving ancient rites of pine and light,
singing the language and history of their people
carried across oceans of fear and hope.
They sing of homeland yearnings for freedom and faith,
of the tears of mountaineers displaced and despaired,
of the battles of heroes to free the heart’s land,
of mystical mothers and magical births.
Generations of voices in harmony
drift through the lace-curtained windows
open to the cold winter night, that night
when animals talk, wishes are granted,
and ancient rituals forge the primal bonds of blood.