Since both my parents were born and raised in Poland, our family always celebrated Christmas Eve with Wigilia, the Vigil Supper. After sharing the wafer (opłatek) we'd sit down to eat a meal of mushroom soup, fish and pierogi. When the supper dishes were cleared away, everybody gathered around the Christmas tree and led by my mother, we sang Dzisiaj w Bethlejem (In David's City) Lulaj Się Jezuniu (Slumber on Jesus))and other Polish Christmas carols.
What I remember best about this special night is not the dolls or candy or games that were under the tree. What I remember best is our evening visitor who came with regularity every year until time and circumstances intruded.
When we finished singing the carols, my mother would always turn to my oldest brother and say, "Michael, call Johnny. Ask him if he'll come over." Johnny was my brother's friend, someone he went to school with and played with during summer vacation. He was over to the house frequently and was a nice Polish American boy whose grandmother had crossed the ocean as a young girl to take up life in America.
Obedient to her request, my brother would make the phone call and, like clockwork, year after year, Johnny would leave the circle of his own family to walk along the railroad tracks, trudging through snow drifts, to be our Christmas Eve guest. My mother, always so pleased to see him, would invite him in and give him a jigger of desert wine. Every year it was the same. Every year she would tell us and Johnny, that his visit was special - a male visitor on the night of Christmas Eve brought health and happiness to those who lived within. She believed it, and after a while, so did we, and we looked forward to Johnny's Christmas Eve visit as much as my mother.
The year Johnny was serving in Vietnam, we had no one to call and our yearly tradition was broken. Up until then I hadn't realized how much his visit meant to me. That Christmas Eve, I realized that the material gifts we receive on this night are quickly forgotten, long gone from memory before the next year rolls around. What's cherished and remembered is what people did and said on this special night. That's what stays in your mind and heart forever.
Merry Christmas. Wesołych Świąt Bożego Narodzenia.
**The photo is a postcard sent to my mother from her brother in Poland in 1957.
One of the biggest moments in my life was being able to sign for my very own library card. When I'm not reading, researching and writing I'm riding my bike, sewing or gardening. I love flea markets, folk art, and traveling to Poland.