The Night Before Christmas-- The Special Wilia Supper


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Christmas for Christian families has always been a time of great expectation and joy, and so it was in our home. Grandmother and sometimes Pa would prepare us by reading us stories about the Holy Family and the birth of Jesus. It had fairy tale qualities and yet it was all true.

Aside from weekends, there were few times when the whole family could be together and we cherished this uninterrupted period of time.

When we were children, our family fasted on Mon., Wed., and Fridays the four weeks before Christmas. No meat was eaten on those days. The day before Christmas has especially meaningful. We had to prepare ourselves with strict fasting until the great feast-- the Wilia supper which we knew would be bountiful. The younger children were not expected to fast although they frequently tried to mimic their elders.

Traditionally the supper started with the appearance of the first star. Since Pennsylvania had a lot of clouds with snow and occasionally rain, this custom was not always followed-- but it was still useful in keeping the younger children busy and out of the kitchen.

Early in the day I would help my mother and grandmother lay hay (sweet) on the table. The hay was in memory of the Christ child's humble existence. This was to topped with a white tab1ec1oth. Small statues of the Holy Family were placed on some additional sweet hay placed in the center of the table along with a plate of OPLATEKS - “the Bread of Love”. Father would start with a prayer for the continued health of the family. Oplateks were passed to each person. Pa would then go from seat to seat breaking bread (pieces of the Oplateks). First with Ma, then grandmother and with each child. When this was done they wished each other good health, good luck, and a merry Christmas. Then mother would do the same and so on down the line until we all had broken bread with one another. We then ate all the pieces of the Oplateks that were on our plate. It was a special time of family, communion, a time in which vows were made to each other and bonds were strengthened. It has a time to be cherished.

We always remembered the feast that followed. Twelve meatless dishes were served: of these pickled herring, herring in sour cream, and cooked smelts which when cooled formed a tasty gelatin. Ma made all these from scratch. Other fish dishes included fried smelts and baked fish. There were the usual potatoes other vegetables and gelatin salad with fruit and nuts. Poppy seed bread and pies were also special.

Another dish which we had to endure (since it tasted bad to me) was kuti pudding -made (somehow) with buck wheat or oatmeal. It was then set out to settle until a crust formed on top which then cracked. It was considered a good sign if the crack looked like a cross and somehow we expectantly saw this in the design.

As I became older I learned that potatoes were not only good and filling, but that they were symbolic of the humble lives that we would be expected to lead; that dried peas meant there would be tears; that prunes represented rough and hard times; and that sauerkraut represented the good and bad thing that we would encounter.

Another special Christmas Eve treat, which we all looked forward to, was the fresh fruits and nuts which the Dodson Coal Company representatives would deliver to every house. Fresh fruit was almost unheard of in the winter months when families would have to depend on the fruits jarred after the summer harvest.

Even more delightful were the hard candles that the coal company delivered to the children.

Following the feast the dirty dishes were removed but not the food. We would continue to sit around the table and join in singing Christmas songs. Pa had a nice voice and he could sing alt the Polish holy songs. He had a long book full of music which he brought with him from Poland. He called the Christmas songs: Kontishka.

Angels are playing in the sky. Kings are meeting

and something great is happening.

The singing concluded, we would either stay home or we would walk the quarter mile to Aunt Anna and Uncle Stanley's (Ma's brother) house.

Aunt Anna loved her wine and beer—although I want to add she never drank excessively. She loved children, and never had any of her own. We were her family and she was always very good to us. Once there be were invited to partake in another feast. But first we were given a piece of holy bread and would break bread with them. This was very important to all of us. We were usually too full to eat very much, but that short walk in cold weather could do wonders for ones appetite when there were new treats to be sampled.

Uncle Stanley always had a very good job, and since they had no children, they were ''wealthy'' by our standards. They were the only ones who gave us gifts. It was always something practical like clothes. They usually brought those over to our house on Christmas Day, but if the weather was bad, they would give these gifts to us the night before. She was a very heavy woman and had difficulties walking.