Wesolych Swiat Bozego Narodzenia!
That’s ‘Merry Christmas’ in Polish, and the Visionalist crew was pleased to learn that complicated phrase a little early this year when we filmed the 25th annual Wigilia, celebrated by Adam Cardinal Maida at the American Polish Cultural Center in Troy.
Wherever Poles live, the most beloved and beautiful of all traditional festivities Wigilia, which is, in families, a Christmas Eve Dinner. It is a solemnly celebrated occasion and arouses deep feelings of kinship among family members. So important is the family element of this tradition that the American Polish Cultural Center’s Wigilia festival, important for the community, is held in advance of Christmas Eve; this year on December 10.
The occasion was both solemn and festive, with Cardinal Maida delivering an inspired Christmas message just after the welcoming comments by the Center’s president, David Ozog, during which he reminisced about Wigilias past and how important his heritage had been throughout his life.
The packed house then celebrated the traditional sharing of Oplatek, a sacred white wafer much like that used for Holy Communion. Cardinal Maida displayed his customary ‘human touch’ by greeting and sharing Oplatek with each of the guests, blending his humor and deep religious sensibility to make this particular portion of the ceremony memorable and beautiful.
The feast which followed, like all Wigilia meals, was meatless, the result of a long-time Church mandate that a strict fast and abstinence be observed on this day before Christmas. Church laws may have loosened to allow meat to be eaten on this holy day, but so entrenched in tradition is the Polish culture that the meal remains meatless to this day. Courses included rich mushroom soup, pierogi, golabki (for non-Poles like us, this is the sensational Polish classic, stuffed cabbage), fried perch and finished with babka, which is (again, for those not schooled in the culture) a cross between a cake and a bread, and concluded the marvelous meal, created in the adept kitchens of the Center, perfectly.
Christmas music by Ed Pazdziora and beautiful renditions of classic carols like Silent Night and O Come, All Ye Faithful, both in Polish and English, sung in unison by the guests, was an ideal kick-off to this most wonderful time of the year.