Poland natives celebrate traditional Christmas in Steamboat Springs | SteamboatToday.com

Poland natives celebrate traditional Christmas in Steamboat Springs

Blythe Terrell
Poland native Evelina Mucha carries a traditional Polish cabbage dish from the kitchen to the dining area during Wigilia, the big traditional Christmas Eve celebrated by Polish families. Also pictured is Poland native Marcin Kostran.
Matt Stensland

— If this were Poland, Wednesday night would have been the biggest celebration of the Christmas festivities.

Families would get up early and start cooking the 12 dinner dishes that represent Jesus Christ’s 12 apostles. Children would be nice to each other that day because, Paulina Slezak said, your behavior on Christmas Eve indicates how you’ll behave in the next year. Slezak and Monika Brozyna – Poland natives who work at Qdoba in Steamboat Springs – wistfully described those and other traditions of their home country last week.

Brozyna is from Czestochowa, the home of a holy shrine, and Slezak is from Rzeszow, in southern Poland near the Bieszczady Mountains. Like 90 percent of their country’s population, they are Catholic.

Far from home on Christmas Eve, the women keep their traditions alive. They cooked Polish dishes Wednesday for the Wigilia, the big Christmas Eve meal.

“In this day, we don’t eat meat,” Brozyna said. They cook fish instead, keeping a fish scale in their wallet all year as a charm meant to bring them money.

Dishes include stuffed cabbage with rice, mushrooms and onions; mushroom soup; cabbage with beans and mushrooms; juice cooked from dried fruits; and kutia, a sweet dish made with poppy seeds, raisins, honey, walnuts and grain.

“But the fish is the most important dish,” Slezak explained.

Before the family eats, members break pieces off a large, wafer-like piece of bread, often bearing a religious picture. They exchange the pieces and “wish each other,” Brozyna said. They might offer a merry Christmas or “wish something more personal for the next year,” Slezak said.

Families wait for the first star to appear in the sky before beginning the meal, the women said.

“So, the little kids are next to the window : they are screaming, ‘We can start dinner,'” Slezak said. “They are so excited.”

Families also set an extra place at the table as a sign that others who are hungry are welcome, Brozyna said. They also might set places for relatives who have died during the year, Slezak said. They pray before the two-hour meal.

Polish families decorate Christmas trees, too, and attend Christmas Mass. They give gifts on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day – and parents tell their children that Christmas Eve is a magical time, the women said.

“When I was little, I tried not sleeping at night because my parents told me at midnight, all animals start talking to people” for just one hour, Brozyna said. “I was always wanting to stay awake because I want to talk to them : and I always fall asleep and say, ‘Mom, next year!’ because I want to talk to my dog, for example, or my cat.”

On Christmas, people get together and eat and visit with family. They also tour the church Nativity scenes.

“We’re celebrating,” Slezak said. “We’re talking; we’re laughing, these days we’re eating regular dishes, whatever you like. It’s lots of sweets, all the baked stuff.”

The celebrations in Poland, which start with St. Nicholas Day on Dec. 6, continue through Dec. 26, Brozyna and Slezak said. On Christmas and the next day, Slezak said, the carolers come. They go from house to house, dressed in costumes – as the three kings that the Bible says visited Jesus, for example.

“We’re giving, always, some money to these guys,” Slezak said. “They are coming, singing carols, doing some kind of show at the houses. When I was little, I was so scared of them.”

Although they are celebrating together in the U.S. this year, the women said Christmas in Poland was different because things shut down Dec. 25 and 26.

“Here, we don’t feel our Christmas because everybody works,” Brozyna said, the tiniest bit of red starting to rim her eyes.

Both women planned to talk to their families.

“We’re calling them, we’re crying, we’re sending them cards before,” Slezak said.

She’s been in Steamboat three years. Brozyna has been here about a year; this is her second Christmas away from her family.

It’s tough knowing about the celebrations going on 5,000 miles away, Brozyna said.

“Last Christmas, I watched my family by the Skype,” she said, referring to the Web-based phone and video chat service. “They’re sitting down to dinner, and I’m just watching.”

– To reach Blythe Terrell, call 871-4234

or e-mail bterrell@steamboatpilot.com

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