FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Glen E. Reynolds
St. Mary's Guild
P.O. Box 785
Wyandotte, MI 48192-0785
Phone: (734) 281-3082
OPLATKI WAFERS: PRESERVING POLISH CHRISTMAS EVE TRADITION
/24-7PressRelease.com/ - Wyandotte, MI. - Christmas Eve has always occupied a special place for those of Polish and eastern European heritage. The sacred symbols, beautiful customs and festive foods, some of them served only once a year, set this season apart from all others. And, over the centuries, these timeless traditions have continued to strengthen the sense of religious and national identity. Probably more than any other set of customs, the tradition of the Oplatki Wafers have helped to keep the family together. The Oplatki custom which originated in Poland, was also adopted by the people of Lithuania and the Czech and Slovak peoples, and has made its way into countless other households which find its rich symbolism an adaptable annual custom of profound meaning.
In a very real sense, the Wigilia (Christmas Eve Vigil) is what being Polish, Lithuanian, Czech or Slovak are all about. Rather than just another festive occasion, it is more of a mood, a feeling, a frame of mind that gives one, a sense of belonging and deeper meaning, the conviction that all is right with the world, at least this one night a year. To Poles and those who preserve the tradition, Christmas Eve is not simply the day before Christmas, it is even more than the main event of the holiday season. Many feel it is the single most important day of the year. Not only does everything important about Christmas take place on that day, Christmas Eve could indeed be described as everything held dear - God, country and family - are all wrapped into one. No other event contains such rich symbolism, so many time-honored customs and so much lore and legend.
The Oplatki wafers are thin unleavened wafers similar to communion wafers. The Oplatki wafers are large rectangular wafers which are embossed with figures of the Christ Child, or other Nativity scenes. The Oplatki wafers are specially baked and imported from Poland so that they may be made available to those wishing to preserve or to adopt this centuries-old tradition especially in areas where the Oplatki wafers are difficult or impossible to obtain.
The ancient Christmas Eve tradition centers on the anticipation of the first star appearing in the eastern skies. In memory of the Star of Bethlehem, the festive Christmas Eve supper is not supposed to begin until the evening's first star has appeared. The family now gathers at the table to take part in the oplatek-sharing ritual. The great moment has now arrived. Members of the immediate family, dressed in their holiday best, now gather around the festively set table. As a rule, only the nearest of kin - grandparents, parents and children - take part in the Vigil supper. A candle is lit on the table to herald the imminent arrival of Christ, the Light of the world. In the more devout
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families, St. Luke's Gospel narrative of the Nativity is read, usually by the eldest person present, and grace is said. The eldest member then takes the oplatek wafer, breaks it and shares it with the next in line. Each then shares pieces of the oplatek with everyone else in the gathering. The sharing ritual is accompanied by copious kisses, embraces and the exchange of best wishes. Typical wishes might go: "I wish you much health, happiness and the Lord's bountiful blessings as well as the fulfillment of all your plans and everything you wish for yourself." Children are often wished that they get good grades in school, be well-behaved and grow up to be their parents' pride and joy.
Needless to say, this is a tender and touching moment of love and foregiveness when past grudges are forgotten, a fleeting magical moment that has a spiritual dimension all its own. Except for the youngsters still unable to grasp the solemnity of the occasion, many are often moved to tears. They may feel so as they think back to the Christmas Eves of their childhood and the smiling faces of those who have long since passed away. Perhaps they nostalgically recall their younger days, when they enjoyed good health, things were simpler and life in general seemed more beautiful.
The table at which the family gathers typically has some straw strewn beneath a fine white tablecloth to commemorate the birth of the Christ Child in the manger. In more modern adaptations, straw or springs of evergreen are placed on a serving platter and covered with a fine white napkin on which the oplatki wafers rest. The Christmas Eve or Vigil supper now follows. This annual repast is anything but a fancy dinner party, and the symbolism that has marked the preliminaries carries on through the meal. The supper not only consists of certain types of food but even a specific number of dishes. Although the origins are unclear, to this day it is customary to serve an odd number.. In the olden days, the number was determined by the affluence of a given household, with aristocratic families serving eleven dishes, the nobility - nine, and the peasantry - seven.
Many of the dishes are served this once a year, and most feel they are well worth waiting for. The more so that many families abstain from all food on Christmas Eve prior to the Vigil supper.
The complete meatlessness of the meal (even meat drippings or stock are not used) symbolizes the cleansing effect of abstinence in preparation for the great event at midnight. Yet judging from the variety and abundance of what is served, this supper is anything but penitential. The fish which dominate the table have long been a symbol of Christianity. The head of the pike, when dismembered, contains bones in the shape of a cross, ladder and mails: the implements of Christ's crucifixion. Horseradish is said by some to be a reminder of life's bitterness, while honey represents its sweetness and poppyseeds symbolize tranquility. Some families serve a compote (stewed fruit dessert or beverage), made of 12 different fruits supposedly in honor of the twelve Apostles.
Unlike the typical meal, at which cold appetizers such as herring would be served first, the first course in traditionally soup. The most common is a clear beet broth with tiny mushroom-filled dumplings floating within or clear mushroom soup served over egg noodles. Next comes the herring, usually marinated, in oil or in sour cream. This is followed by the fish dishes, the favorite being carp in various forms: fried, baked, in raisin sauce or in aspic. Pike has traditionally come in a close second, often served hot in horseradish sauce or sold, stuffed in its own skin and served as is or in aspic. Other
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common fish dishes include perch or walleye with hard-boiled egg topping, tench baked in red cabbage or crucean stewed in sour cream.
Other dishes include sauerkraut stewed with mushrooms and/or peas, pierogi with various meatless fillings - both savory and sweet, buckwheat groats and mushroom gravy, golabki (cabbage rolls) filled with rice or barley and mushrooms. Rounding out the meal are such sweet dishes as almond soup, stewed prunes and dried fruit, noodles and poppyseed, wheat and honey pudding, rice and apple casserole plus nots, raisins, dates and figs to nibble on. Traditional cakes include poppy seed rolls, fruit cakes, and honey-spice cakes. Although drinking is rather subdued, often a hot honey-spice cordial known as krupnik is served.
Singling koledy (Christmas carols) in the family circle has long been the crowning touch of the Christmas Eve Vigil supper. The feasters would move to the room in which the Christmas tree was standing, light its tapers and joyously sing the age-old hymns in honor of Christ's birth. As the night grew late, then as now people's thoughts began turning to the Pasterka or Shepherd's Midnight Mass, a fitting culmination to this unique evening of nostalgic customs, good food and good-natured merriment in the family's innermost circle.
The Oplatki Wafers for Christmas Eve, often difficult to locate or obtain in many areas, are available by contacting: St. Mary's Guild - M.O.C.C., 2803 Tenth Street, Wyandotte, MI 48192-4994 between now and December 15th. Envelopes containing three large rectangular oplatki wafers imported from Poland are available for a charitable donation of $6.25 to cover costs and mailing. The charitable contributions received, outside of costs and mailing, will be used by the Guild to assist in its Christmas season deficit of $225,000.00 out of the $650,000.00 needed this year to assist several single spouse families facing home foreclosures, the elderly poor, disadvantaged youth, charity food basket program, and other annual Christmas programs served by the Guild in its works of Christian charity.
St. Mary's Guild is a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt religious organization. All contributions are tax-deductible and are welcomed from all people of all religious backgrounds. The Guild does not receive any state or federal funding and must rely solely on charitable support. The Guild may be contacted at the address provided or by e-mail at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Glen E. Reynolds
St. Mary's Guild
Oplatki Wafer Christmas Eve tradition first established in Poland and adopted by Lithuanian, Czech and Slovak nations holds extreme importance in preservation of ethnic traditions, customs and heritage. Oplatki Wafers not always easy to locate or obtain.
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