Open for Xmas with Eataway

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For the people of Poland, Christmas Eve Supper (Wigilia) is the most important night of the holiday season, perhaps even the year. It is an evening when families come together to undertake age-old customs: a banquet of dishes specific to the evening, the exchange of presents, cracking wafers to bestow good wishes & raising their voices in (sometimes) harmonious carolling.

One of the most touching traditions of Wigilia has long been to leave an empty plate at the table in case of a wandering stranger who comes a-knocking. However, as it would be seen as rude to disturb an unknown home on Christmas Eve asking for food, this empty dish is not in reality expected to be filled. Is this empty plate simply an empty gesture? 

The team from Eataway got to thinking about how many people there are who would actually love to be sitting in that empty chair. How many fellow humans, far away from or perhaps without a family of their own to celebrate with. The people we walk right past every day who are sleeping in the street every night. Those without a chair, without a table, without a home of their own. The travellers who have come from the other side of the world simply to be immersed in Polish culture and meet its people, who's hotels are lonely. The elderly person who's friends have passed, who their own family have forgotten.

So, when there are so many who are indeed in want of a table to join, why is this Wigilia tradition only being conducted symbolically?  Why not invite someone to fill that empty chair? Why not fill that empty plate and perhaps fill an empty heart in the process? 

When Marta, co-founder of Eataway, first mentioned this idea to me I immediately connected with it. As an expat who has spent her last three Christmases in Krakow, thousands of kilometres from home, I know all too well how big that distance can feel while all your friends and colleagues discuss their festive plans. How they will return to their quaint village to gather round the fireplace with cousins, aunts, babies, scrappy dogs. How Uncle Stanislaw always tells the same bad jokes and how Babcia never fails to supply her extra-strength homemade cherry vodka. 

Last year, when during one of these conversations that same question was posed to me - how would I spend my Christmas? - my reply of “I don’t really know” set alight the festive flame in my colleague’s heart and she immediately determined to bring me home for Wigilia. A quick call was placed; the family were delighted to have me; and so it was that on Christmas Eve, I caught a train to a nearby village and nervously joined a family I had never met before in their most cherished celebrations.

Long story short, by the end of the night we had all enjoyed one of the best Christmas Eves that any of us had ever had. The 10 foot high language barrier was easily overcome by open hearts, improvisation and a big dose of humor. We ate, drank, and laughed all night long, relishing each others company. Exchanging Christmas Carols and traditions from our respective countries, the room was swimming in all the feelings that you see at the happy ending of a Christmas film. It is a memory that we will cherish forever.

This year, I will join Marta’s Wigilia and I would like to share with you the reaction of another expat family I overheard her inviting.The mother said that in all the time they had lived in Poland, they had dreamed of being a part of a proper Polish Wigilia but had never had the opportunity. She was absolutely delighted to be joining in on the festivities, after so many years.

Thus, I can only encourage readers to open their minds, to be brave enough to enter the home of a stranger or to have a stranger enter theirs. As the saying goes - a stranger is just a friend we haven’t met yet. When the reward can be so great, why not take the chance? 

Eataway's Open Up for Xmas movement challenges families to open their homes and bring their beloved Wigilia ritual to life! So, join a table or open a table and experience the joy of Wigilia in the warmth of new friends. Connect our global family with food and love.

Take part as a guest or a host, or learn more here:

Alternatively, if you would like to help others on Christmas but cannot attend or host a meal, you can also take part in this initiative by donating an Eataway Christmas Box. Simply purchase the box online and it will be filled with a delicious homemade Christmas meal and delivered to someone in need in collaboration with social centres.

Donate a Christmas box here:

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