Saturday, December 15, 2012

Celebrating Wigilia

Celebrating Wigilia at St. Florian's in Hamtramck with Laura Kline and Wayne State U Slavic Program.  Church, greeters, dancers, and Elissa sharing oblatek with friend Natasha
My daughter Elissa and I drove up to Detroit last night, to the historic Polish community of Hamtramck, to attend a Wigilia program at old Saint Florian Church. Wigilia is Christmas Eve in Poland, celebrated with lots of great food, songs and dances.  We were treated to ALL of them, thanks to Elissa’s friend Laura Kline, Russian language and literature professor at Wayne State University.  The program is sponsored annually by the Slavic Studies department ( and has lots of generous local sponsors and enthusiastic participants.  I knew nothing of Wigilia so it was nice to learn about this Catholic Polish tradition.  After the first star is spotted the night before Christmas, families gather and share a thin wafer, Oplatek, which has been blessed by a priest.  Family members wish each other good health, happiness, and fortune.  Lots of noise and rejoicing follow.      

Wigilia reminds us that cultural traditions sustain us, in all places, in all religions, at all times.  Wigilia, Christmas eve, is commemorated around the world in different ways, steeped in a myriad of cultural folkways both universal and unique.  I remember the elaborate fish dinners, an Italian tradition, we had in Rochester when I was growing up, prepared by my mom’s father, then by my mom, and in somewhat modern form by the third and fourth generations. I remember the holiday traditions in Ukraine, and the boisterous and heartfelt toasts. Similar traditions are celebrated throughout Europe and other parts of the world.   

The program for this Wigilia celebration included the lyrics to Silent Night in English, Polish, Russian, Ukrainian and German.   Very sweet, very moving.  Here it is in Russian:
Ночь тухаб ночь свята,
Людуб дапь чиста,
Лишь в пещере свеча горит,
Там святая чета не слит,
В яслях дреемлет дитя.

Happy holidays everyone! 
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