Christmas without borders
In many Polish homes throughout the world, a most beloved family tradition is the breaking of the oplatek on Christmas Eve.
The oplatek (oplatki is the plural form) is a thin wafer similar in consistency to a communion host that is often stamped with an elaborate Christmas scene. Historically these would be distributed by religious to parishioners’ homes during the Advent season.
It is related to an Eastern tradition of giving out “blessed bread” after the celebration of the Divine Liturgy. This bread is not consecrated, but blessed by the priest as a way to extend the fruits of the Mass into the home.
The oplatek is meant to remind families of the Eucharistic bread at Mass and makes a further connection between Christmas and the gift of the Eucharist, the presence of God among us.
On Christmas Eve, the family eagerly awaits the first star in the night sky, recalling the star of Bethlehem that signaled the birth of the Savior. Once the star has been spotted, the Christmas Eve meal begins.
The table is traditionally covered with straw and a white cloth. In some homes this is reduced to a single plate, upon which rests the oplatek, as a symbol of Christ in the manger.