Wigilia is our Christmas Eve traditional Polish dinner. The celebrations begin when the first star (Gwiazdka) appears in the sky and continue all night, ending with midnight Mass, called Pasterka, “the Mass of the Shepherds.” We usually start out with some kind of prayer, and we share the oplatek (similar to the wafer you get at Church) with each other, exchanging personalized wishes for the coming year with each family member. Next it is time to eat!! And we sure do a good job at this one. In our family we’ve narrowed it down to seven courses, but traditionally people serve as many as eleven. The entire dinner is meat-less, and focuses around mushrooms and cabbage, comforting flavors which I adore. Although fasting was only mandated by the Church back in the day, the no-meat tradition has stuck around, which makes me very happy since the foods served on Wigilia are my absolute favorite Polish dishes. For most people, the meal centers around the fish, which is usually battered and lightly fried…and this is like the turkey of the thanksgiving dinner. For me, the highlight is the red beet soup with uszka. The uszka “little ears” are mini pierogies, kindof like tortellini, and are stuffed with dried mushrooms. They are little pockets of deliciousness and go so well with the bright hot beet soup. I always add a ton of fresh ground pepper to my soup to make it extra peppery and this dish is just perfect for me. We usually take a few much-needed breaks in between courses, and we also get to open our presents on Chrismas Eve!!