Eastern European heritage celebrated Sunday at Vilija Dinner in Gilpin
More than 100 people came together Sunday in Gilpin to celebrate Eastern European heritage and tradition in the form of a meal.
This was the third time members of the First Catholic Slovak Ladies Association Senior Branch 262 hosted a Vilija Dinner — a traditional meatless feast served the night before Christmas by Eastern European people who speak Slavic languages.
Among the traditional fare was pagach, bobalky, oplatky and, of course, pierogi.
Branch President Marilee Kessler said the event is a way to share the tradition with a large group of people and give back to the community.
This year it was held at Christ the King Parish.
“A lot of people no longer do it in their homes — and they want to — so we’re trying to bring this to a large group of people,” she said. “We’re doing it as a gift to the community. Each of our members are invited, and they can bring a guest.
“It (can) mean a lot, especially to older people and families that are maybe far apart.”
Other aspects of the meal, in addition to no meat, include a toast with a strong liquor such as Slivovica, and the passing of an oplatky, a rectangular wafer that is eaten with honey. People typically break apart the oplatky and share it with others.
“We’re driving, so we’re just having a little bit of sweet wine,” Kessler joked.
“Vilija” means “the eve of…” and is the Christmas preface.
Kessler said the idea is to use items native to where you live.
“We have fish, we have stuffed cabbage that’s meatless, we have pierogi,” she said.
Anne Marie Stefanik, Kessler’s cousin, grew up eating Vilija dinners with her family.
She said it’s nice the association is continuing the tradition because a lot of people don’t do it anymore.
“They do a very nice job here; it brings back a lot of memories,” she said.
The catered meal included mushroom soup, pagach (sweet kraut), bobalky (sauerkraut and poppyseed), lemon dill halibut, green beans, pierogi, mushroom cabbage rolls, dried fruit, mixed nuts, nut rolls and cookies. Wine and juice were the beverages.
Joyce Kardos and her daughter, Diana Bowser, were first-timers at the dinner Sunday. Bowser is half-Slovak, on her late father’s side.
She said the dinner was great, and may spark an interest in people to continue the tradition.
“My dad’s parents came from the old country, but he was born here,” Bowser said. “Through the generations, people have lost the traditions.
”Maybe people will start doing it again.”
Madasyn Czebiniak is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Madasyn at 724-226-4702, firstname.lastname@example.org, or via Twitter @maddyczebstrib.