Polish Christmas Traditions, Christmas Wafer (Oplatek)

The word "Oplatek" derives from the Latin word "Oblatum", meaning sacred bread. Made of unleavened dough, it first began to be used in the lOth century as a liturgical wafer, with a religious motif engraved on a side. In Poland the tradition of baking wafers in engraved metal forms, and of using these wafers for sacral and secular purposes dates back to the Middle Ages.

Initially wafers were baked by monks, but in the 15th century the production of wafers was transferred to the lay servants of the church, it remains their privilege until this day.Workers wore liturgical garments and sang special hymns during the process. By the middle of the century, monks and nuns were given the privilege of making such wafers. At about that time, the custom of sending non-liturgical wafers to homes of the faithful as a sign of harmony appeared in Southern Europe. This idea was soon taken up in Poland and craftsmen began creating Christmas themes on such wafers, thus making the "Oplatek" appear on the Christmas Eve table, where it has remained ever since. The origin of sending Oplatek goes back to the 19th century partitioned Poland, when people were sent to Siberia as a punishment for taking part in uprisings during that period. It was then, that the custom of sending such wafers, accompanying tribute, family warmth and good wishes to all those in prison camps, appeared.

The wafer-sharing ritual is accompanied by mutual wishes of health and prosperity in the coming year. At Christmas time, it is now also sent to absent members of the family and close fiends in foreign lands, who, in their loneliness, partake of it and so, are in communion with their Ioved ones. They dream that they are seated with their family at the Wigilia table, enjoying blessings, forgiveness and warmth of those under the parental roof.

The Oplatek is the treasure link that brings warm memories of Poland to us alI, settled in different parts of the world. Christmas Eve is the culminating point in preparation for Christmas in a Polish way. Come to a Polish home and you will be warmly enfolded by the wings of faith expressed in Poles' tender love for the Christ-Child.

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Marek Ogorzały T.Chr.
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