Christmas Eve in Poland is a day of fasting. When the first star comes out in the evening, the family sit down together to eat. This star is to represent the Star of Bethlehem, and children are always keen to spot it so that the festivities can begin.
Often hay is placed under the tablecloth as a reminder that Jesus was born in a manger, and there is always a spare place set in case a stranger should come looking for food and shelter.
There are 12 dishes – some sources say this is one for each month, others that it’s one for each of the Apostles – and it is considered lucky to try to eat all 12. The centerpiece is carp, and none of the other 11 dishes contain meat, as a reminder that there were animals in the stable and that they too played their part in welcome in Jesus. In fact tradition says that on Christmas Eve the animals can talk – should they wish to!
The first dish to be eaten is an opłatek, which is a wafer with religious pictures engraved into it. They are shared, and as you share, you forgive and are forgiven for any offences caused throughout the year.