Enjoying my Polish Christmas Feast and Staying Safe

Wesołych Świąt

Many of my ancestors are Polish and celebrating holidays are essential to the lives of Polish families. They used the calendar of holidays to set the rhythm for activities during the year. Christmas was a favorite because it seemed to be a magical time. The festive activities surrounding Christmas helped brighten the atmosphere from the dark days of the winter. Family, relatives, friends, neighbors, and strangers seem to become kind, friendly, and generous.

This year with the threat of Covid-19 still looming around us, our holiday celebrations may seem even more critical to our lives as we pray to return to normal activities. Will the magical feeling we get from celebrating Christmas with our family make this return to normalcy possible? Or will family gatherings bring unwanted results? Vaccination minimizes but does not prevent the spread of Covid. We need to have a balance between celebrating with our families and practicing safe contact. How can we carry on the traditions of our Polish ancestors and still stay safe?

Decorating the house inside and out can quickly and safely get the family into the Christmas Spirit. The decorations can give our family the warm, welcoming feeling of Christmas as soon as they drive up to our home. However, inside the house, the risk of transmitting Covid-19 increases, and we should take steps to minimize this risk.

Here are my common-sense suggestions:

  1. Do not travel long distances to attend the family party. Everyone needs to stay close to home – different states and different counties follow different rules and cause confusion.
  2. Schedule your family gathering at a large enough house to maximize social distancing in the sitting areas. Do not congregate in one room such as the kitchen.
  3. Add tables to increase elbow room at the tables when eating
  4. Deliver food, beverages, and presents a few days before the gathering. Avoid last-minute shopping.
  5. Minimize who handles food, dishes, and utensils
  6. Minimize who handles Christmas presents
  7. Before the party, ask family members if they have Covid-19 symptoms and vaccination status. The non-vaccinated and those who have symptoms should stay home
  8. Ask family members who have attended holiday parties at work or with friends at bars or restaurants to wear masks or stay home
  9. Have masks available for all family members to wear if they need to.
  10. Have hand sanitizer dispensers available at multiple places at the party and encourage their use
  11. Inform family members about these practices in writing before the party

These may seem like extreme measures, but they will minimize the risk of transmission of the virus at your party. I feel they are needed because I would be devastated if a family member became infected with the virus at my family celebration.

Even with the above practices, you can still enjoy the festivities. Focus on enjoying a traditional Christmas meal with all the favorite foods from past Christmas meals. What will you serve? I have memories of cheese, sauerkraut pierogi, fish, ham, mushroom soup with noodles, herring, boiled potatoes, dumplings with plums and poppy seeds, stewed prunes with lemon peel, and a fruit and poppy seed cake. Today, our feast includes kiełbasa, sauerkraut, red cabbage, cucumber sour cream salad, pierogi, and a poppy seed cake. This menu has far fewer items than a traditional Polish Christmas table but still satisfies our appetites and produces leftovers. It includes traditional Polish foods and tries to honor the memories of our ancestors.

Bring out the family photo albums and scrapbooks. Try to create an atmosphere that encourages everyone to remember family stories. If there are small children, read Christmas stories to them. Sing a few Christmas carols to bring the group together. Take pictures and write down the family stories.

Best wishes, and I hope you follow many of my suggestions. Have fun but stay safe.

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