One of the most beautiful and most revered Polish customs is the “breaking of the opłatek.” The use of the Christmas wafer (opłatek) is practiced not only by native Poles in Poland, but by people all over the world whose ancestors came from Poland.
The “opłatek” 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 (wigilia), 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.
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. In my family we used to have really big Christmas, with about 25 – 35 people. We would brake few wafers in smaller pieces, so everyone can have their own. Then we would go around the table, wishing everyone a wonderful new year. Each person would brake a little piece of wafer from everyone.
The ceremony is over, we all sit down to a tasteful, though meatless supper, after which we sing kolęndy (Christmas carols and pastorals) and open gifts from under the tree, until the time for Midnight Mass, also know as “Pasterka“.
Sometimes, the opłatek is sent, in a greeting card, to loved ones away from home. I get it every year from my family in Poland:)
Do następnego razu… (Till next time…)