The Breaking of the Oplatek
One of the most beautiful and most revered Polish customs is the "breaking of the oplatek." The use of the Christmas wafer (oplatek) is practiced not only by native Poles in Poland, but by people all over the world whose ancestors came from Poland.
The "oplatek" is a thin wafer, made of flour and water. For table use, it is white. In Poland, colored wafers are used to make Christmas tree decorations. Formerly, these were baked by organists or by religious and were distributed from house to house in the parish during Advent. Today, they are produced commercially and sold in religious stores and houses.
On Christmas eve, the whole family gathers and waits impatiently for the appearance of the first star. With its first gleam, they all approach a table covered with hay and a snow-white table cloth. A vacant chair and a place setting is reserved for the unexpected guest, always provided for in hospitable Polish American homes.
The father or eldest member of the family reaches for the wafer, breaks it in half and gives one half to the mother. Then each of them breaks a small part of each other's piece and, after a warm kiss, they wish each other long life, good health, joy and happiness, not only for the holiday season, but for the coming year and for many years to come.
Now the same ceremony is repeated between father and their children, as well as among the children, then, with the relatives and even strangers, if they happen to be present. The ceremony over, they all sit down to a tasteful, though meatless supper, after which they sing kolendy (Christmas carols and pastorals) until the time for Midnight Mass, also know as "Pasterka."
Sometimes, the oplatek is sent, in a greeting card, to loved ones away from home.
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