Breaking bread and making new friends

‘This is the best ice-breaker I have ever seen.’

On a fairly bleak January morning it’s cheering to take a quick look back to a heartwarming December night when for a few hours Craighall Community Centre in Leith gave a glimpse of a Polish family Christmas with the traditional Wigilia (night before Christmas) celebration. Including a 12 course meal and a visit from St Nicholas!


Breaking bread: oplatek, the traditional highlight of the Polish Christmas celebration, has friends and strangers exchanging good wishes for the coming year.

Leith Open Space was delighted to be invited to join an international gathering of aroundConsul General of the Republic of Poland Aleksander Die 120 people including the Consul General of the Republic of Poland Aleksander Dietkow and his wife (pictured right), representatives of Fort Community Wing, Leith Harbour and Newhaven Community, Polish Connections Group, Community Empowerment Group and many others.

Surprise, surprise (and surprise)
We had two surprises: first we discovered there would be 12 courses – including delicious dumplings, beetroot soup (barzsz), many cabbage and mushroom dishes, and fish (traditionally meat is not served) all prepared by volunteers. Second, we discovered all this was washed down with water and spiced plum juice (traditionally alcohol is not served either). And third (make that three surprises), we were sitting next to a young man with a long beard who turned into St Nicholas with presents for us all before the end of the evening.

The highlight of the night was the traditional breaking of bread which had everyone up on the floor exchanging greetings and kisses with people they had never met before the meal began; ‘The best ice-breaker I have ever seen,’ said one of the guests.

As our hostess, Kasia Raszewska explained: “The climax of Wigilia is the ritual of the oplatek, a wafer of unleavened bread. Each guest takes one and, breaking off a small piece, exchanges it with someone else; both eat the piece proffered by the other and wish each other good fortune for the next year.”

Our thanks to Kasia for inviting us to this very welcoming and friendly event. Kasia was an active supporter of the Leith Open Space Opening Doors scheme last year when she ‘shadowed’ Mark Lazarowicz MP for Edinburgh North and Leith. We look forward to welcoming new members from the Edinburgh Polish community to the next phase of Opening Doors and other Leith Open Space events this year.


Volunteers from Swietlica, the Polish community group based in Leith, who organised Wigilia with support from City of Edinburgh Council and the Consulate General of the Republic of Poland. Kasia is in the middle, wearing a pink jacket, and ‘St Nicholas’ is behind her next to the Christmas tree. See more pictures on the Swietlica Flickr page.

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