Preparing for a Polish Christmas

By Carly Gibbs

Forget sausages and salads, Western Bay families with European connections are shutting away the barbecue and harnessing their traditional roots.

Many Europeans celebrate Christmas on Christmas Eve, and Mount Maunganui's Halina Footner, a second generation New Zealander of Polish descent, is one of them.

Mrs Footner has been cooking all week - minus the red meat, which the Polish do not eat at Christmas.

She is making beetroot soup or barszcz but won't be making a traditional Polish carp dish.

Mrs Footner said the Polish traditionally leave live carp in the bath three days prior to Christmas Eve, before killing and filleting it. The fish is difficult to obtain in New Zealand she said.

Instead of carp she will cook two herring dishes satalka sledziowa - one with sour cream, onions, eggs and potatoes; and one with mustard, honey and raisins. Shots of vodka will be drunk with the herrings.

Also on the Christmas table will be pierogi - dumplings stuffed with cottage cheese and potato, and dumplings stuffed with corn meat, onion and seasoning. There will also be stuffed cabbage golumpki and potato dishes placki ziemniaczane. She will replace sweets with fruit but is "going to be a little bit naughty" and make Polish cheesecake or sernik.

Mrs Footner began cooking for nine people on Tuesday and was to continue cooking until December 24.

Her son-in-law is Swedish and she will also cook traditional Swedish dishes for him, including Swedish meat balls and marinated salmon - gravalax.

Presents from Santa or Swiety Mikolaj are dished out on Christmas Eve and it is traditional for Polish Catholic families to attend midnight mass.

Mrs Footner's grandmother moved to New Zealand in 1944, when she supervised Polish orphans aboard a boat to Pahiatua. Her parents, who were married in the Polish army, came to New Zealand in 1948 when they were discharged.

Mrs Footner, who speaks English and Polish, travels to Poland every two years and said it was important to her to keep her Polish traditions alive. Her Kiwi husband Pryme, brings out the barbecue on Christmas Day, which is the Polish equivalent of Boxing Day.

Meanwhile Mount Maunganui's Klaudia Wisnewski, also Polish, will be replacing her family's traditional 30-course meal with a more modest selection on Christmas Eve and a Kiwi feast on Christmas Day, to honour her Kiwi husband and children.

"It's not as traditional because of the weather," she said of what she would make. "[With] a white Christmas and cold, you feel the spirit."

- Bay of Plenty Times

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