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The Wigilia (Christmas eve) feast has some unusual traditions, most curiously placing a layer of hay under the tablecloth. It’s a way of remembering that Jesus was born among animals.
In many Polish houses (especially in the countryside) it is customary to put some hay underneath the table cloth. After the food, family members would draw a hay-stalk each. A green one would symbolize fortune in the forthcoming year, a yellow one means that nothing would seriously change, a broken blade brings bad luck and a bent one – health problems.
In the Christmas spirit of hospitality to strangers, the dinner table always has one empty place in case an unexpected guest drops by.
As Poland is more than 80 per cent Catholic, the Wigilia meal is meat-free with a main course of fish, most famously carp (karp), which is meant to bring good fortune. Christmas culinary traditions differ depending on the region, but in almost every Polish house you are bound to eat fried carp. In Poland, many carp are still sold live in supermarkets and the fish are often kept in the family bathtub before ending up on the dinner table.
There is a superstition that if you put the carp’s scale in your wallet, you will be lucky and rich in the forthcoming year.
It’s important to serve 12 dishes on your Christmas table which is linked to the number of Apostles. It is believed that you should try all of them; otherwise the next year food will be less abundant.
Many Poles say that “Jaka Wigilia, taki cały rok” which means that the forthcoming year will be the same as Christmas Eve, so if you are happy on that day, your next year will be happy too. If you are arguing with your loved ones, you should expect the next year to be the same, etc…