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A Slovak Polish Christmas Eve in Lansdale, PA

Stanley Peter Jaskiewicz


  • Stanley and his wife combine their Slovak and Polish traditions for Christmas Eve in Lansdale, Pennsylvania.
  • It typically includes a festive meal, traditional dishes like pierogi, sauerkraut, and fish, as well as customs such as sharing Christmas wafers and exchanging good wishes.
A Slovak Polish Christmas Eve in Lansdale, PA Vejcik

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My wife and I have a mixed marriage. My ancestors were all from Poland, but hers were from Slovakia and Germany.

Nonetheless, after our wedding we found our holiday folk traditions remarkably similar (albeit with different names): “I say pierogi, you say pyrohy. I say golabki, you say halupki.”

However you pronounce them, I think we all agree that they taste great on Christmas Eve.

So too the breaking of the oplatek (oplatky in Slovakia), a thin Communion-like wafer with a traditional religious design baked into it.

In my wife’s family’s tradition, breaking the crisp wafer with a friend on Christmas Eve assures you that you will never be lost - because your friend will always find you.

But we each also discovered new traditions from each other, which have now become part of our annual celebration.

For example, her family’s Vigilia ceremony before dinner on Christmas Eve marks the real start of our Christmas.

Vigilia, a Christmas Eve dinner to remember (

The oldest family member carries a lit candle into the otherwise dark dining room where the rest of us await. The candle bearer recites a traditional Slovak prayer, translated (in part) as “may you receive a crown of glory in paradise.” Everyone then looks to see who has the longest shadow, the sign of a long life.

(I remember how nervous my wife was the first year it was her turn to handle this honor.)

I learned from her to enjoy nut roll and poppy seed bread.

My wife had never eaten kruschiki, the flaky fried dough treat coated in confectioners’ sugar that I had enjoyed since my childhood.

Polish Chruściki (Angel Wings) Recipe (

Although traditionally a Lenten food, my mother made them for all of us to enjoy together over the Christmas holiday as well.

Of course, as a “blended family” we have made our own, new traditions, including one we adopted from my mother.

She often took me and my brother, as young children, to the annual holiday light show at Wanamaker’s department store in Philadelphia.;

At that time, the narrator was local news legend John Facenda, known from his NFL Films work as the “Voice of God.”

An annual trip to that same show (now at Macys, narrated by Julie Andrews) has become our modern tradition.

(I enjoyed the tradition so much that I bought a VHS tape of the show at a yard sale, and had it copied to DVD – which I had copied for gifts for family members. I even bought an audio DVD of Christmas music on the Wanamaker organ when I saw it available in the store one year.

Similarly, just as my brother and I did with our parents, we now look forward to driving through a nearby neighborhood on Christmas Eve, to see street after street, and row after row of neatly arranged luminaria, marking the path for the Christ child. For me, the sudden appearance of lights on virtually every street evokes the silent awe of the Christmas season.

After our then-young son realized that we did not put the figurine of Baby Jesus in the manger until Christmas Day (a long-standing tradition in our church), he invented a new version for us.

He looks forward to hiding an elf figurine from a holiday toy for us to find. He is now a college graduate in his 20’s, but still looks forward to the tradition he created.

My son's longtime Scout leader, also of Polish descent, added one my family had never observed – a shot of Krupnik. (Thanks, Joe, but we will stick with a less potent potable!)

He also mentioned one we had always observed, a meatless Christmas Eve dinner, with some of the foods mentioned above.

After the Vigilia ceremony, dinner has always begun with mushroom soup – which one relative seasons, heavily, with vinegar.

Outside of our family, I was introduced to another holiday tradition, through my service on a local nonprofit food pantry’s board – the “alternative gift market.”

Rather than buying “gift items” that languish in attics until spring cleaning, or, as at our house, being discarded after a flooded basement, shoppers can gift friends with donations to local nonprofits.;

At the event, shoppers browse tables to learn about each organization.

As a board member and volunteer, I always enjoyed helping at the event, “selling” our organization’s mission to all those who stopped at our table.

One popular tradition we never adopted was attending Midnight Mass. Although we tried – once - we could never stay awake - especially when we knew our children would wake us early to open presents.

(Of course, parents also had to get up even earlier to “help” Santa put them under the tree.)

In the spirit of our combined families, let me wish all of you Wesołych Świąt and Veselé Vianoce!

(For sources of additional traditional Polish and Slovakian recipes, see: