Wigilia is the traditional Christmas Eve vigil supper in Poland, held on December 24.
Wigilia comes from the Latin word vigilare, "to watch," and the feasting traditionally begins once the first star has been sighted (usually by the children) in the heavens at dusk (around 5 p.m.). Therefore Christmas is also called "Gwiazdka" (the little star).
Children usually decorate the Christmas tree on this day (if it has not been set up before).
A bundle of hay is placed under the tablecloth or in each of the four corners of the room to symbolize the fact that Jesus was born in a manger.
As a game, children would remove pieces of straw from under the table.
Green would mean a year of wealth or possibly a marriage, while a black piece of hay would mean bad luck much like the "piece of coal" represents in modern Christmas lore.
The drawing of hay was only for fun and was rarely paid attention to.
Family members begin the celebration with a prayer and breaking of the Christmas wafer (opłatek).
Readings from the Bible concerning the nativity of Jesus are practiced in the more religious households. In the countryside,
it is customary to feed livestock (though not dogs, cats, and other pets) with the wafer.
Another tradition is leaving one extra empty plate for a stranger. This is to celebrate the tradition of hospitality in Poland.
The extra seat was left open just in case a traveler, family members, or friends appeared at the door, so there would be a place for them to sit.
It also represents a place for family members who have passed away.
After sharing the wafer the supper begins.
The number of dishes is traditionally established to be either 12 (in Kraków region) or an odd number (in Silesia).
The number 12 is symbolic of the number of months in the coming year as well as to celebrate the 12 disciples of Jesus.
Traditional dishes include carp in aspic, kutia, pierogi, barszcz, uszka, bigos, kluski, fried fish fillets, herring in oil, potatoes, mushroom or fish soup, and different salads.
Wigilia is observed as a black fast, and as such Poles abstain from eating meat on this day.
The vigil supper concludes with family members giving gifts to one another.
Christmas carols are also sung. Some families attend the traditional midnight mass (pasterka).
It is still believed that whatever happens on the Wigilia day has an impact on the following year.
So, if a quarrel should arise, it foretells a quarrelsome and troublesome year.
If, in the morning the first visiting person is a man, it means good luck, if a woman, one might expect misfortune.
Everyone, however, is glad when a mailman comes by, for it means money and success in the future.
Various divinations are practiced such as hiding a nut (or another small food piece) in a cake and dividing it among family members. Whoever finds the nut inside his portion is guaranteed to have a successful year.