‘Tis that time of year once more, and I can’t help but ponder what Christmas might have looked like at the fictional Biaska Castle in the early 1600s. Many of the rich traditions from that time prevail today, and I listed some of those in last year’s December post … straw beneath the tablecloth, leaving an empty place at the dinner table, and sharing the opłatek wafer around the table, to name a few.

Wigilia is Christmas Eve in Poland, when many of these customs are practiced. When considering Wigilia, one must consider Advent. Advent is the period that leads up to Christmas and begins on the fourth Sunday before Christmas. Christmas Eve, December 24, is the last day of Advent and was typically a day set aside for prayer and reflection. It was also a day of fasting and abstinence, so the dishes served were meant to be sparse and didn’t include meat. Hence fish dishes were and still are popular.

Another interesting tidbit I read is that several types of dishes could be combined to count as one. In other words, a table might feature smoked herring, baked carp, and tench in butter, but they were considered one fish dish. Hmm … clever, but wouldn’t this have been, well, cheating a little? Not that I blame folks for fudging things a bit. After fasting all day, I’d be all in on that program.

The meal then, as it is now, was greatly anticipated, but it didn’t begin until the first star was spotted in the sky. (I can’t help but wonder what happened on a cloudy night. Did folks go hungry?)

In keeping with Advent, and Wigilia’s tradition of meatless dishes, here’s a sampling of what one might have found on a nobleman’s dinner table:

Beetroot soup
Wild mushroom soup
Pike á la polonaise
Herring with caper
Smoked eel
Fish in Aspic
Pierogi (of course!) – with sauerkraut and dried mushrooms
Cabbage rolls
Assorted vegetables
Assorted dried fruit

And for dessert (my favorite course):

Fruit Compote
Honey spice cake
Poppy seed cake

I’m not a big fan of fish, so had I been fortunate enough to feast at a lord’s table, I think I would have politely sampled most of the main dishes (although Polish mushroom soup is to die for) and filled my belly with the cakes.

How about you? Are these dishes similar to what graces your table on Christmas Eve? What would you have heaped on your platter?