Angel Bread, Borscht and Pinot Noir

Christmas is a magical time. It’s a time when people like to follow tradition. It’s a time for giving and sharing, a time when family and friends come together to celebrate with food, wine and song. For me Christmas Eve or ‘Wigilia’ (vi’gilja) is a special time – a Polish tradition that celebrates the onset of Christmas with a vigil supper. A twelve course meal that traditionally begins when the first star appears in the sky. Childhood memories come flooding back of large family gatherings; the ritual of dressing the tree to Christmas carols; the pure white linen cloth draped over the table, with a few pieces of straw beneath the cloth, to signify Christ’s birth in a manger. The extra place set at the table, just in case an unexpected stranger comes knocking at the door – a mark of true Polish hospitality. The sharing of ‘Oplatek’ or Angel Bread before the meal begins – a symbol of love, unity and forgiveness. Borscht and the countless meatless dishes. The exchanging and of course, the excitement of opening of gifts.

In essence I still follow these traditions, although I don’t wait for the first star to appear in the sky – a little difficult when you live in New Zealand and Christmas Eve falls on one the year’s longest days. I confess to my borscht being made on beef stock but still with the addition of wild porcini mushrooms that make this soup an earthy delight. I will drink Archangel Pinot Noir and may even add some to the soup (my mother-in-law swears this will create a soup that will be fit for a king) – we’ll see. I’ll reduce the amount of dishes I serve (a necessity for my expanding waistline). I will share the ‘Oplatek’ (Angel Bread) with my family and honour those who are too far away or no longer with us. I’ll set the table with an extra place – just in case. But most of all I will go into Christmas with a sense of gratitude. Knowing that we are all connected in some way and no matter what tradition or belief you follow, I wish you peace and happiness always.

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