We couldn’t get out of the car fast enough; flying effortlessly up the steep cement steps and into the house where hugs and Christmas greetings welcomed us. A shot of brown liquor was ceremoniously thrust into my father’s hand. We added our coats to the mounding pile and breathed in deeply; the smells of my heritage filled the kitchen.
The Christmas tree glowed in a corner of the small living room; giant colored bulbs, golden garland, and a few sparse antique lighted candles took up residence on various branches. The manger scene, on display by the tree, was beyond incredible; I just couldn’t look at it closely enough.
This was my grandparent’s home on Christmas Eve in the 1970’s, where we gathered to celebrate “Wigilia”, the traditional Christmas Eve vigil supper in Poland. For me, on this one night, my grandparent’s simple New England home became the most special place in the world.
Just before we feasted, my grandfather (dziadziu) offered the ceremonial blessing and then passed pieces of Christmas wafer (oplatek) to everyone. Each person in turn shared a piece of their wafer wishing each recipient luck and joy in the upcoming year. It made me feel special to take part in what seemed to be such a grown-up tradition.
Moments later, white plates were filled with delectable polish dishes: kielbasa, pierogi, and golabki. Soda filled glasses lit the table like a string of Christmas lights; grape, orange, root beer, lemon/lime; it was an extra special treat at dinner. I could just eat, and eat, and eat, and then came dessert – my grandmother’s (babcia’s) homemade cakes, cookies, and those melt in your mouth paczki- warm sugared donuts filled with jelly. Stories were shared, laughter ensued, and anticipation for what was to come swirled through the dining room.
After dinner, the cousins clamored up the back stairs, rushed into a bedroom, and shut the door. Whispers and giggles filled the room, and then … our heads turned in a flash toward the ceiling; the roof above seemed to rumble with the stomping of feet. Soon after we heard a familiar call; a hearty, “HO, HO, HO,” bellowed up to us from the first floor, followed by the jingle of bells. Santa had come.
We couldn’t roll off the bed and get through the door quick enough, each vying to be the first to be blinded by the 8mm camera lights waiting to greet us at the bottom of the stairs. We bounded into the living room, where colorfully wrapped gifts littered the floor under the tree.
“Wigilia” at Babci and Dziadziu’s; it was a magical night … it was, simply the best!
*This was my husband’s memory from days of old.