By RON KUZLIK     12/13/2023

Polish people throughout the world gather around the dining room table to celebrate the Wigilia (vigil) on Christmas Eve.

Wigilia, (pron. vi gi LEE uh) means “to wait” (for the Christ child).

It is perhaps the most beloved Polish family tradition of the year involving the sharing of the oplatek, or Christmas wafer at the Christmas Eve dinner.

According to Fr. Zbigniew Fraszczak, SVD, director of the Saint John Paul II Polish Center in Yorba Linda, “Christmas Eve in Poland is a very special day.”

He added: “People on this day become different, better, kinder and calmer.”

The wafer is baked from wheat flour and water, unleavened, just like the altar bread that is distributed as Holy Communion during Mass. It is typically in the shape of a rectangle about 4” x 6” with a smaller wafer about half that size. They are embossed with Christmas scenes, such as the Nativity.

The tradition of the oplatek dates back several centuries in Poland and is also celebrated in parts of Lithuania, Latvia, Czechia (the Czech Republic) and Slovakia.

“Christmas Eve supper often begins when the first star appears in the sky,” Fr. Fraszczak said. “Families pray together and after they pray, they share the white wafer.”

He added: “This is a very important and traditional moment because the Christmas Eve wafer is a symbol of reconciliation and forgiveness, a sign of friendship and love.”

The male head of the household begins by taking the oplatek wafer and expresses his hopes and wishes for his wife in the new year.


She then offers wishes to her husband as they break off a piece of each other’s wafer and eat it. This then continues around the table, starting with the oldest family members first until each person at the table as “broken bread” with each other and extended wishes of good health and prosperity.

Many families use the Polish phrase, “Daj, Boże, za rok doczekali.” When translated, it means “God, let us live long enough to see each other next year.”

Fr. Fraszczak explained that it is believed that everyone who shares the wafer will not experience hunger and will be able to share bread with the poor.

Another tradition is to set an extra place at the table for the “unexpected guest.” This originates from the ancient Polish adage, “A guest in the home is God in the home.”

Since Christmas Eve marks the end of Advent, the dinner is usually meatless since historically fasting and abstinence was part of Advent.

There are 12 dishes served at the Wigilia dinner, in memory of the twelve apostles. Beginning with soup, followed by different fish, including herring, carp and gefilte fish. There is pierogi (boiled dumplings filled with cheese, potatoes or mushrooms) as well as gołąbki (stuffed cabbage rolls) and kluski (Polish drop noodles).

Then there are a variety of vegetables, such as onions, carrots, almonds and raisins. This is accompanied by cabbage, cooked sauerkraut with apple salad. This often comes with challah bread.

A selection of desserts follows the main meal with various cakes and an assortment of sweets including edible Christmas ornaments.

After the Wigilia dinner, many Poles attend Midnight Mass, the so-called “Shepherds’ Mass,” in reference to the shepherds tending their flocks at night when an angel appeared to them announcing, “For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Messiah and Lord.” (Luke 2:11)

The first Poles arrived in the United States over 400 years ago. Currently, there are 10 million Americans of Polish descent, the largest concentration of Poles in the world outside of Poland.

The Saint John Paul II Polish Center in Yorba Linda celebrates a dinner for the entire community a week before Christmas Eve.

This year’s Traditional Polish Christmas Eve Dinner will be held Sunday, Dec. 17, following the Polish Mass at 1 p.m. at the Saint John Paul II Polish Center, 3999 Rose Drive, Yorba Linda.

The cost is $35/adult and $25/child. Tickets are available at the Parish Office. For more information, call 714-996-8161 or go to www.polishcenter.org

WESOŁYCH ŚWIĄT! That is, Merry Christmas!