Sometimes it was the only time we hugged. Sometimes it was the only time we let bygones be bygones. We forgot all of our many differences and relished in the moment. Some years it healed the quarrels and erased the scars. It was for siblings, spouses and any loved ones.
It’s amazing how much weight the morsel of wafer exchanged held and wiped clean the past, invited new beginnings and allowed an opportunity for well wishes. For these reasons, this brief juncture is the pinnacle of the whole year.
This tradition of opłatek (o-pwha-tek) was introduced to me from my very first Christmas, but dates back to centuries and centuries ago. It’s now a tradition that I’ve shared with my husband for a dozen years and for my daughter, it is her favorite part of Christmas. My family has shared this gesture with others over the years, and some of them still keep my country’s custom going strong.
It starts with the first star on Wigilia (Polish Christmas Eve celebration). The children wait anxiously until it appears, which kicks off the several course meal. However, before the indulgence begins, centered on the table is a sole piece of opłatek. Usually imprinted with a nativity scene, one of the adults breaks up the wafer into enough pieces for each individual. From person to person we go, and in a few words (or longer depending the year!), we forgive and hope for the best for one another. We each break off a piece of each other’s opłatek, place it in our mouths and give one another a tight embrace, allowing a clean slate. Sometimes it’s an emotional experience when even tears are shed. With the leftover opłatek, we never forget the dogs and they finish it off, offering them hope too, for the upcoming year.
More recently, my older brother who now lives in Poland, is lucky enough to share the tradition in its country’s origin. My family, however, misses having him here and so we offered him a virtual opłatek. When thinking about the idea of virtual opłatek, I thought it would be fun to share with each one of you a virtual opłatek as well. Really, whether or not Polish or Catholic, this is a custom that is beneficial to all. From our family to yours, we wish you a late Merry Christmas or in Polish, Wesołych Świąt and Happy New Year!