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OPLATKI WAFERS: PRESERVING AN ANCIENT TRADITION

9/9/2003 - 12:00 AM PST

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
MEDIA ADVISORY
Catholic PRWire

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

WYANDOTTE, MI -- Although Christmas Eve is but a few months away, Polish, Lithuanian and Slovak Catholics turn their thoughts in advance to centuries-old traditions and customs that have been lovingly preserved from generation to generation. In contemporary households these customs and traditions are often neglected or forgotten and oftentimes even the availability of the Oplatki wafers has become difficult if not impossible.

The traditions and customs of Christmas Eve have always occupied a very special place in the hearts and souls of Polish, Lithuanian and Slovak individuals. The sacred symbols, the treasured customs and festive foods - some only served once a year, set apart this season from all others. Through the centuries the timeless traditions and customs have continued to strengthen the sense of both religious and national identity. Perhaps more than any other set of customs, the tradition of the Oplatki Wafer has aided in keeping the family bond together. The Oplatki tradition and custom first originated in Poland, it was adopted later by the Lithuanian and Slovak peoples and has made its way into countless other households that find its rich symbolism an adoptable annual custom of profound meaning.

In a very real sense, the Wigilia (Christmas Eve Vigil) is what being Polish, Lithuanian or Slovak are all about. Rather than just another festive event, it is more a mood, a feeling, a frame of mind that gives a person, a sense of belonging and deeper meaning, the conviction that everything is right with the world, at least this one night of the year. To those of Polish, Lithuanian or Slovak descent, Christmas Eve is not just the day before Christmas, it is even more than the main event of the holiday season. Many feel it is the single most important day of the year. Not only does everything that is important about Christmas take place on that day, in that Christmas Eve could indeed be described as everything that is held dear - God, country and family - all wrapped into one. No other annual event contains such rich symbolism, so many time-honored customs and so much love and legend.

The Oplatki Wafers are thin unleavened wafers similar to communion wafers. The Oplatki Wafers are large rectangular wafers which are embossed with figures of the Christ Child, or other Nativity scenes. The Oplatki Wafers are specially baked and are imported from Poland so that they may be made obtainable by anyone wishing to preserve or to adopt this centuries-old tradition.

The ancient Christmas Eve tradition centers on the anticipation of the first star appearing in the eastern skies. In menory of the Star of Bethlehem, the festive Christmas Eve supper is not supposed to begin until the evening's first star appears in the sky. The family then gathers at the table to take part in the oplatek-sharing ritual. The great moment has now arrived. Members of the immediate family, dressed in their holiday best, now gather at the festively set table. As a rule, only the nearest of kin - grandparents, parents and children - take part in the Vigil supper. A candle is lit on the table to herald the imminent arrival of Christ, the Light of the World. In the more devout families, St. Luke's Gospel account of the Nativity is uead usually by the eldest person present, and grace is said. The eldest member then takes the oplatek wafer, breaks it and shares it with the next in line. Each then shares pieces of the oplatek wafer with everyone else present at the table. The sharing ritual is accompanied by copious kisses, embraces and the exchange of good wishes. Typical wishes might go: "I wish you much health, happiness and the Lord's bountiful blessings as well as the fulfillment of all your plans and of everything you wish for yourself." Children are often wished that they get good grades in school, be well-behaved and grow up to be their parents' pride and joy.

Needless to say, this is a tender and touching moment of love and forgiveness when past grudges are forgotten, a fleeting magical moment which has a spiritual dimension all its own. Except for the youngsters still unable to grasp the solemnity of the moment, many are often moved to tears. They may feel so as they reflect on the Christmas Eves of their childhood and the smiling faces of those who have long since passed away. Perhaps they also nostalgically recall their own youth, when they enjoyed good health, things were simpler and life in general seemed more beautiful.

The table at which the family gathers typically has some straw strewn beneath a fine white tablecloth to commemorate the birth of the Christ Child in the manger. In contemporary adaptations, straw or sprigs of evergreen are placed on a serving platter and covered with a fine white napkin on which the oplatki wafers rest.

The Christmas Eve or Vigil supper now follows. This annual supper is anything but ...

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1 - 1 of 1 Comments

  1. Erik Bach
    5 years ago

    My Grandma after over a half century just could not have Christmas Eve anymore so I was assigned to take over because I am the only one with a full finished basement and hence the room for everybody. I told my aunts if they wanted me to do it, no half measures, I go all the way: the fish, perogi, Opatki, the best china and glassware and all the kids better be in their best. Your article was just the source material I was looking for to help me validate and carry-on Grandma & Grandpa's tradition. God Bless You!

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