In Polish tradition, nothing says "I Love You" as meaningfully as Oplatki Christmas Wafers. Derived from the Latin word oblate, oplatki is unleavened bread that began to appear in Polish homes at Christmas soon after the arrival of Christianity. The word Oplatki itself means "Angel Bread" and is often seen spelled as Oplatke, Oplatky, or Oplatek. The correct Polish pronunciation is O-pwaht-kee. This is the plural form of the word. One wafer is called Oplatek (O-pwah-tek). Sharing of the Oplatki is the most ancient and beloved of all Polish Christmas traditions.
The wafer is typically a rectangle about four or five inches long, embossed with a Christmas scene of the Nativity or the Blessed Virgin Mary holding Baby Jesus. It is made of flour and water, pressed thin to resemble the wafer used in Holy Communion. Associated with the Mass, but distinct from the Eucharist, the oplatki has long been considered a sacramental. Bread is a symbol of life and hope for Christians, hearkening back to the manna from heaven in Moses’ time, and the Eucharist of Christianity. Polish tradition has preserved the sharing of the oplatki as a spiritual family communion on Christmas Eve.
Families obtain their oplatki from religious stores such as Ziegler Catholic Stores, or sometimes parishes provide them. White wafers are for the human members of the family; other colors are for family pets and farm animals.It is customary to have the wafers blessed by the parish priest.
The informal ceremony of the oplatki begins with each family as dusk falls and the first star appears in the night sky. We have provided instructions on how to conduct this meaningful yet simple ceremony for you below. By the cereomony's end, each family member has told each of the others of their love and care in their own words. The sharing of the Polish Christmas wafer is practiced by the people of Poland, and by others all over the world whose ancestors came from Poland. This sharing is a beautiful example of keeping Christ in Christmas.
The informal ceremony dates back centuries to when flat bread was baked over an open flame and shared with the family gathered around the fire on Christmas Eve. Patterns were cut onto the bread to make breaking easier. Polish Christmas wafers still have patterns on them, usually of Nativity scenes. Formerly the wafers were prepared and baked by religious and distributed from house to house. Today, since this tradition is growing at such a fast rate they are produced commercially and sold in religious stores such as Ziegler Catholic Stores.
The spiritual lesson in this age old custom is unity of the family - the main pillar of society. The bond of unity is the Christ-like charity that should exist with the members of the family. The father of the family is the link in the unbroken chain of One Body, One Bread, One Christ, and One Church. The family joins him in this eternal procession no matter where they are, for there is a universal longing by men to be always with one another, and with God.
As you prepare to go about this upcoming Christmas season, consider this Christ-centered, family-oriented, and
love-filled tradition. You can be sure that you and your family will help foster the true spirit and meaning of Christmas for years to come.
Steps to Follow:
1. Gather the family at dusk on Christmas Eve. Together, watch for the first star to appear in the evening sky.
2. Then, assemble the family around the dining table. (Make sure that straw or hay was placed on the table, and that an extra place has been set for far-away family or unexpected guests.)
3. The head of the family takes a white oplatek wafer and offers it to his wife, expressing his love and good wishes while doing so.
4. The wife breaks off a piece of the wafer, eats it, and offers the remaining wafer back to her husband, expressing her love and good wishes for him.
5. The husband breaks off a piece, eats it, and then offers the remaining wafer to the eldest family member, with love and best wishes.
6. Continue the process with additional white wafers as necessary, until all members of the family have expressed their love and best wishes to all other members, following the age sequence from oldest to youngest.
7. Offer a piece of the colored wafer to family pets and express how they are part of the family and contribute to the love in the family.
8. When the process is finished, all of the oplatki wafers should have been consumed. Continue with your Christmas Eve meal.