In Poland, the Christmas and New Year holiday season has a festive family character. They are holidays of joy and brotherly feeling expressed in the atmosphere of the rich traditions of many years. For the older folk, Christmas is the preliminary to the greeting of the new year and is combined with many customs handed down from generation to generation. For the children, it is the colorful Christmas tree decorated with bright, sparkling ornaments and gifts.
The focal point of the Christmas holiday is the festive Christmas Eve supper served as soon as the first star in the sky appears. The table is covered with a white cloth and the whole family partakes of varied dishes specially prepared for this feast. First come the soups-lnushroom, fish, beet, or pea soup. Then the fish-pike with saffron, carp with raisins and honeYr herring. This is followed by noodles with poppy seeds, buckwheat groats, peas, dumplings filled with sauerkraut and mushrooms, bigos without meat, a special Christmas Eve dish called kucia, poppy-seed wafers, and finally dessert of kisiel (a kind of jelly), bakalja (a kind of cooky), pears and dried fruits, nuts, and cakes such as the poppy-seed loaf and gingerbread.
According to tradition, there must always be an odd number of dishes-five, seven, nine, or even thirteen. However, the number of persons at the supper must be just the opposite, even-numbered or paired. Places at the table are always set for the absent members of the family-and, of course, there are always places for unexpected guests.
At the very start of the Christmas Eve supper, the whole family exchanges felicitations. The order of exchanging them begins with the oldest, the heads of the family, and ends with the youngest. After supper the lights on the tree are lighted, Christmas carols are sung, and gifts are distributed.
In the countryside, the animals are fed with the leftovers from the supper, and the holy wafers are shared with them because, so the legend goes, this night they regain their speech and therefore must be treated as equals of the family.
At midnight, all get ready for church, for the holy Mass called Pasterka. The Christmas and New Year season in Poland is, above all, one of peace, love, and friendship.