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    Our Advent Calendar 2022: Day 19: The story of carp on Polish Christmas Eve table

    Fish is a symbol of Christianity, which is why it is a must-have on the Christmas table. In Poland, the most popular fish on Christmas Eve is carp. We explain why it is so.  

    The fish is a symbol of Christians. It, along with bread, represents a gift from God because, as it is written in the Bible, Jesus multiplied bread and fish so that the people listening to him could eat. 

    The story of carp in Poland

    During the year, Poles often eat panga, salmon, or cod, among others. However, as Christmas approaches, carp – the most popular fish on Christmas Eve – breaks records in popularity. This is not without reason.

    It has been known in Poland since the 12th/13th century. This was due to the Cistercian Order, who bred carp in ponds in the areas surrounding the monasteries. It turns out that carp, on the other hand, has only been eaten on Christmas Eve since the communist era.

    The ‘communist’ fish 

    Before communist times, Poles often served bream, zander or tench on December 24. After the Second World War and for many years to come, hardly any family celebrating the fast day every Friday could afford fish for dinner every week. Once the People’s Republic of Poland started, the shops with mostly empty shelves, rarely had fresh fish for sale. One reason for this was that the war had destroyed the fishing fleet, and it was unable to recover.

    The creation of fishponds

    This changed when Hilary Minc became Minister of Industry and Trade during the communist era. He was also the author of the slogan ‘Carp on every Polish Christmas Eve table.’ Minister decided that fishponds had to be created almost on a mass scale in Poland. 

    Carp is one of the fish that is easy to breed, so this fish was becoming more and more popular in Polish cuisine. What’s more, it was relatively cheap to run carp ponds. The state encouraged people to eat fresh fish. Customers could finally buy carp without access, and not just sprats, herring or ‘paprikash,’ so the fish paste with red peppers. 

    Not so long ago, grandparents and parents bought carps a few days before Christmas Eve and let them swim in a bath. Usually, according to tradition, the head of the family kills the carp the day before Christmas Eve, and mum or grandma fries it.

    Supreme Court defences carps

    Every year, millions of carp are sold in Poland before Christmas. In 2016, however, the Supreme Court ruled that buying a live carp lying in a plastic bag or a wooden box waiting to be sold amounts to fish abuse. Since then, keeping fish in containers devoid of water is prohibited.

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