Christmas Eve by Other Names

The best thing about writing this blog is having people from around the diocese share their favorite traditions and recipes with the folks who visit the site.

It’s been a great Advent in that respect with cookie recipes from friends old and new and hints and tips on how to bring shed meaningful light on celebrations from around the world that hark back to ancient times and customs that appeared more recently.

All of it has made this time of waiting more precious than ever.

Now, the waiting is almost over. Christmas Eve is close at hand and here again, old friends and new are sharing wonderful family traditions and yummy foods.

Among those who shared memories and recipes is Kasia Pawka, a member of St. Mary of the Lake Parish, Lakewood and a teacher at the Polish Supplementary School that meets at Holy Family School on County Line Road.

The school, with more than 150 students, is always a buzz with preparations throughout December for Jaselka, the fantastic Christmas play held annually at Holy Family School. This year, sad to say, the play was scheduled for Dec. 19 at 5:15 p.m. – the veritable height of the Blizzard of ’09 in a town that racked up 24 inches of snow.

Despite the snowfall, however, Kasia reports that more than 300 people turned out to see the show which is wonderful for all concerned.

Busy as she was during the rehearsal season, Kasia was good enough to share a treasured recipe for one of the 12 dishes her family enjoys at the Christmas Eve feast of Wigilia and she shared some insights about the way the final days of Advent are kept in Polish families.

Families eat no meat in the 12 days before Christmas, she said and they fast throughout the day of Christmas Eve in preparation for the feast that is to come.

“In Poland, we have a special meal called Wigilia. After the first star appears in the sky, we all sit down to eat a meal with 12 dishes. The reason there are 12 dishes is because there were 12 disciples of Jesus,” Kasia said.

“The dishes include carp fillet, zurek (a traditional polish soup), pierogi, barszcz (Polish borscht) golobki (cabbage roll ups) and various kinds of Polish salads.”

It was a time honored custom to prepare the dining room specially for this meal by spreading straw on the floor to make the room similar to the place where the child Jesus was born. Hay was put under the table cloth (because the infant was laid on the straw) and in each corner of the room were sheaves of four kinds of cereals: wheat, barley, rye and oats.

According to Polish Origins, a blog you can find at, the table had to be ready before the first star was seen.


Kasia’s Christmas Eve Cabbage Roll Ups


Ingredients: 1 large head of cabbage, center core removed; 1 lb. each of ground beef, ground pork & ground veal; 2 cups cooked white rice; 1 cup chopped onion; ½ cup finely chopped salt pork; 1 cup ketchup; 2 cans tomato soup; 1 ½ cans water; 1 tbsp brown sugar; ½ tsp. each salt and pepper; ¼ tsp. each celery salt, sweet basil, nutmeg and Worcestershire sauce


Parboil the cabbage in a large pot, removing leaves as they fall off in the water and are tender. Cook till all leaves are tender, but not ripping apart – usually about 15 minutes. Run under cold water and drain. Cut the thick membrane off the back of each leaf. While the cabbage is cooking, sauté onion in butter or substitute until lightly browned.

Put all the uncooked meat into a large mixing bowl. Add the sautéed onions. In the same pan, brown the salt pork, then, using a slotted spoon, add salt pork to the meat mixture. Next, add dry seasonings, Worcestershire sauce, ketchup and cooked rice. Mix thoroughly. Lay out the leaves and depending upon their size, place 2-3 tablespoons of meat mix on the wider side. Roll leaf up and over the meat, tuck in sides and continue to roll.

Place the rolls seam down in a greased roasting plan. Mix together the tomato soup, water and brown sugar and pour evenly over the rolls. Cover the pan with a lid or heavy duty aluminum foil. Bake at 325 degrees for 2 – 2 ½ hours. After 1 ½ hours, check to make sure there is enough liquid in the pan, if not, add additional water.To serve, spoon sauce over rolls.


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