Guest Blog Entry #36, Entry #355, December 12 & 13, 2010
Through this journey of self awareness and finding myself in Stagetecture, I have come across wonderful people from every corner of the world. On one of my blog roll surfs I came across Majology, a lovely blog that captivates you with the photography and the snapshots of Gosia Maj’s life. I commented on one of Gosia’s posts ‘Whats for Dinner?’ – which featured THE most beautiful picture of a pink salmon (eyes and all!) back in April. I commented, “Wow! you can make a smelly salmon look beautiful!” From there started our beautiful friendship across the blogosphere.
Today (and tomorrow) I have a Christmas treat for you from Gosia. She has blessed me with a beautiful Polish Christmas tradition that her family celebrates and has taken beautiful pictures to now grace Stagetecture pages. This post deserves more than 24 hours as it encompasses the magic of Christmas… and the magic of Gosia Maj!
I’m thrilled and humbled to be guest-blogging here at Stagetecture. When Ronique asked me to be a guest blogger, I honestly thought she had sent her email to me by mistake and that it was destined to someone well-recognized and mightily-accomplished in the blogosphere. It was one of those Cinderella moments for me when she clarified she seriously considered my input. The thought equally enthused and horrified me, but here I am – doing my first guest blog ever. What I’m feeling writing this is truly exhilarating. Let’s hope what I have to say and share with you, will be equally interesting.
This is the Christmas season and there is no lack of Christmas tradition blog posts around. I’ve been wanting to share one Polish tradition with my own Majology readers this Christmas, but then I thought since I could reach a wider forum at Stagetecture, it only made sense to talk about the Christmas wafer here instead of Majology, where half of the readers are so familiar with the concept anyhow. You know yourselves, how Ronique and Stagetecture are the most welcoming place of all. They combine the delicate human touch, with tons of architectural design knowledge, and the ultimate dedication to the quality. I wondered a little, where my unruly and fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants approach to most of what I do, could fit in, but then I stumbled upon this blog – “How to Make Holiday Guests Feel Welcome – Without a Guest Room” and everything became clear. Stagetecture might not be in the possession of the guest room for the splendour of the moment, but it certainly is free to make me feel welcome and ready to listen to my own outlandish story.
And this is one of those outlandish stories that I want to tell you. I’m not sure why I’d been so endeared with this particular custom, out of many Polish traditions, which often make no sense to the modern person, but are still so engraved in the collective soul of the nation that are impossible to ignore. One thing I know for sure, this little quirky custom of ours makes this wonderful Christmas evening even better.
Let’s start then. The Christmas wafer is made of unleavened wheat flour and water. It’s then pressed in wafer presses that are similar to this day waffle makers, but which produce a very thin sheet of baked dough, white in colour and almost translucent. Actually, the same equipment is used to produce the communion wafers, just the shape and the design differ. It takes a great effort to source the best milled flours for the fare, unbleached, yet producing the wafers white as snow and light as feathers. The wafer making used to be the job of many nun monasteries in Poland, the Felician Sisters of Crocow, to name just one. Nowadays, it is common to buy Christmas wafers in everyday supermarkets, as the demand is superfluous at Christmas time, so any endeavor-minded person could potentially carry on a Christmas wafer business in Poland.
However magical and old-fashioned the wafer creation is, it doesn’t compare to the impact it makes on many a souls at the Christmas Eve Vigil. Traditionally, in Poland, we celebrate the Christmas Eve with the most fanfare. Yes, the Christmas Day is duly noted and the celebratory mood goes on, but the true Christmas feeling is conveyed solely on the Christmas Eve.
This is the time when families flock together. If trouble or animosity loomed over that family members on the December 23rd, it’s forgiven on the December 24th, as there is this expectation that we’ll all meet in good faith for the higher good for the Christmas Eve Vigil. I can’t tell you how many stories I’ve heard about families being able to just smooth the troubled waters over, with no serious debates, or conditions. Simply the magic of the time, helping them to forgive and forget. The Christmas wafer is the essential part of that process. O.K., I’m getting ahead of myself.
The Christmas Eve dinner is the serious business for us Poles. Traditionally, we’re expected to cook 12 seafood dishes for that dinner, lay out straw under the table cloth, and always, I mean always, set up one spare dinner setting for an unexpected guest. This doesn’t count any people you might have met prior to Christmas, learning they had no family to get together with. If you encounter such a circumstance, you’re obliged to invite them to your Christmas Eve dinner table, period. The final dinner guest count goes like this: your own and your extended family, plus the people you’ve invited along since they had no place to go for Christmas, plus the spare dinner setting – just in case someone showed up. Your Christmas Eve dinner potentially becomes a crowded event. Then you wait until the first star shows up in the sky. This becomes the prompt to sit down at the table and to mark the start of Christmas. I can’t tell you how confused F. (our son) has been all these years of his childhood in Vancouver, where skies were inevitably clouded and we had to second-guess when the first star could have shown up in the sky. This has always involved much of running out of the house and intense staring at the sky to determine the appropriate time.
Once the Vigil starts, the very first thing that happens is the Christmas blessing coming from the head of the family (usually the oldest person at the table) directed to all participants. The blessing reminds to grant forgiveness, and how important both, Christmas and family, are.
The following step is what this whole introduction was leading to – we all gently take a piece of a Christmas wafer, neatly set up on the table.
We then approach each and every single dinner guest with our own wafer, offering an appropriate blessing, along with Christmas wishes, for which the guest will gently break off a small fraction of the wafer and will put it in their mouth, as a symbol of the blessing being understood and accepted. We then listen to the other person’s blessing for us, we then tear off a piece of their wafer, put it on our own tongue, and let the feeling of how the world has just become better let wash over us.
Merry Christmas to Everyone!
Gosia Maj turned into blogging exactly a year ago. The venue turned out to be the perfect outlet to let out her accumulated creative energy in a few of the areas she especially cared about. Her favorite pass-time is to photograph the graceful still life that surrounds her. To bake sourdough breads, to travel, and to dab in interior design, all come as the close second. Polish by origin, she’s been living in Canada, Vancouver Metro area, for the last 22 years, sharing her life with her husband, and best friend, Artur. Their incessant efforts to balance life pass between their work time spent in rainy, but homey Vancouver, and their play time assumed in always sunny and warm Phoenix, AZ. High school teacher by trade, Gosia entered the corporate world when she immigrated to Canada. In 2007, she decided to follow her heart and to return to the public school system, this time in the capacity of the teaching assistant. She will eagerly tell you all about how the quality of her life got instantly enriched by this move, the move that allowed for all the creative pursuits she had only been dreaming about prior to 2007.
You can contact Gosia through her blog Majology, on Facebook, and Twitter
For more Christmas ideas on Stagetecture, click here