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January 29, 2023
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Sharing of Oplatek on Polish Christmas Eve

Wesołych Świąt Bożego Narodzenia!

The Polish people wish you Merry Christmas

Among Poles, wherever they are in the world, the most significant, most beloved, and most beautiful holiday is Christmas Eve known as Wigilia.

Wigilia

Wigilia is a solemn celebration of the birth of Christ that begins when the first star, known as the GWIAZDKA, appears in the sky on Christmas Eve.

That is when the family members and friends gather at the Christmas table and the host begins the ceremony by sharing Opłatek with all those gathered around the white-clothed table with special vegetarian dishes. The dress code for Wigilia is strict.

The Wigilia dinner differs from other evening meals.  There is always a thin layer of hay under the white tablecloth in memory of the Godchild in the manger. An extra place is always set at the table for the unexpected guest. This belief stems from the ancient Polish adage, “A guest in the home is God in the home.”

OPŁATEK   (Oplatek)

the Polish Christmas Eve Wafer, a crumb of love, a sign of reconciliation.

Before sitting down at the white-clothed table, people break and exchange morsels of Oplatek with each other together with best wishes. Blessings, greeting, and best wishes for health, wealth, and happiness strengthen the bond of unity between family members gathered at the table.

The Oplatek, a thin wafer similar to the altar bread, is meant to remind families of the Eucharistic bread at Mass and the presence of God among us.  Oplatek symbolizes the link in the unbroken chain of One Body, One Bread, One Christ, and One Church. Oplatek also encourages forgiveness and reconciliation. The sharing of Oplatek arouses feelings of kinship, friendship, and bonding, giving us a deep sense of meaning and belonging, and strengthening our families.  The sharing of Oplatek at Wigilia enables us to connect spiritually with loved ones far away. They symbolically share with us their love and longing by sending us Oplatek for the Wigilia dinner table together with their Christmas card.

The sharing of Oplatek on Christmas Eve originated in Poland in the 10th century and by the 17th century spread widely.   The tradition of sharing “Opłatek” on Christmas Eve was part of the  Polish nobility’ culture that spread throughout the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth and neighboring countries.

In the aftermath of the 19th-century partitions of Poland by Russia, Prussia, and Austria, Oplatek gained profound patriotic meaning, as the common wish during sharing of “Opłatek” became the wish for Poland to regain its independence. 

The sharing of “Opłatek” helped the Polish people survive the German and Soviet extermination machines of the 20th century.  Sharing of Oplatek spreads beyond families and friends, reaching the workplace and public space.

Kolędy

After Wigilia dinner, the time comes to sing Polish Christmas Carols called the KOLĘDY while the children wait impatiently around the Christmas tree or CHOINKA for the Polish Santa Claus called Mikołaj who brings Christmas gifts and distributes them to the enthusiastic crowd. Polish Christmas Carols or KOLĘDY are numerous and beautiful, especially when sung in Polish parishes at PASTERKA. One of the most beloved Polish Christmas Carols is Lulajże Jezuniu. Other popular Kolędy are: Bóg się rodzi, Przybieżeli do Betlejem, Gdy śliczna Panna syna kołysała, etc. 

Pasterka

Once the presents are unpacked and properly admired, everybody goes to the Church for the midnight mass called PASTERKA, which means the Shepherds Watch. People believe that while the congregation is praying, peace descends on the snow-clad, sleeping earth. During that holy night, the humble companions of men – the domestic animals – assume voices. But only the innocent of the heart may hear them.

 

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