One of the loveliest traditions we started on Christmas Eve is one we took from our Polish friends, the breaking of the Oplatki bread.
This tradition starts just before the evening meal. While the adults gather around the dinner table the children are out outside into the cold to look for the first star (you better pray it’s a clear night or the dinner can go cold!). When it has been spotted the children come and join us and we light the white Christmas candle on our advent wreath, representing Christ, “the light of the world.”
The Father of the household or the eldest member then prays a short blessing, breaks off a piece of the Oplatki bread and passes it to the next eldest; at the same time exchanging Christmas wishes, seeking forgiveness, and wishing peace, good health, happiness and God’s blessing for the coming year. This goes around the family until everyone has eaten some Oplatki and exchanged Christmas greeting with each other.
For me this is the start of the Christmas celebration: presents are wrapped, food is prepared; what is not done is now not going to happen, and I have to let it go, a difficult thing for a mother to do I know.
But for us as a family this is the defining moment, this is what Christmas is all about. Christ has been heralded, love, peace and good wishes abound and we can now sit and enjoy each other’s company, relax and make merry!
The traditional Oplatki wafer looks like a rectangular communion host and can be purchased in polish shops or brought off the internet.
You can make your own; I use a recipe that I came across on the internet for Springerle cookies. It’s a cross between a meringue and a cookie. I use a mould which has a Nativity scene on it, but if you have any form of artistic streak I am sure you can draw a simple scene or a cross on to the dough. It is important to let the dough dry out for 8-24 hours and when it is cooked the image will stay on the biscuit.
The wonderful thing that I keep discovering about our Catholic faith is that nothing is ever coincidental. I find it amazing that Bethlehem where Our Saviour was born translates to “House of bread”. Jesus was then placed in a feeding manger and has now become the bread of life for us all.
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