Share love like never before

    If you come to a Polish Christmas Eve dinner, you might experience something that could be the single most powerful tradition that stitches our families together. But watch out; you are getting into serious business.

    First you need a prop, which will be a white Christmas wafer made from water and flour, not unlike the host used for the Eucharist but usually rectangular in shape, probably with a Nativity scene embossed on it. It is called ‘opłatek’ and you will get it from the head of the family. Then you will hear a bunch of generic wishes addressed to everyone but after that, the real deal begins. You approach every single person at the table, break a piece of their wafer, let them have a piece of yours, eat the acquired tidbit, and proceed to wish the other person the best blessings you can come up with. Sharing wishes is serious business in Poland: ‘Merry Christmas and all the best in the New Year’ won’t do. They need to be personal, concerning the challenges, that you know of, your family member will face in the upcoming year. It shows that you are honest, care about this person, think about them, and that their problems are dear to you. This is also the best moment to reconcile with someone you have not spoken to for months. You cannot skip a person or brush them off with a ‘Merry Christmas’; this is someone you care for and want to encourage and share in their hopes even if you have struggled with them.

    It is hard to say when this tradition was established, it seems like it has always been with us, especially that breaking and sharing bread was done by the earliest Christians. It changed its character and form over the centuries but its current flat rectangular shape supposedly originated during the time when Poland was partitioned, so that ‘opłatek’ could be sent in an envelope to a relative living abroad. The Christmas wafer is there to keep the unity of the family, to share love, and to remind us that we should be good to each other like bread, as st. Brother Albert Chmielowski would say.

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