Aleteia logoAleteia logo
Aleteia
Friday 17 September |
home iconSpirituality
line break icon

The beautiful Polish tradition of breaking bread on Christmas Eve

OPLATEK

FotoKatolik | CC BY SA 2.0

Philip Kosloski -

The oplatki tradition is one rich in spiritual symbolism, and can even help heal family division.

In many Polish homes throughout the world, a most beloved family tradition is the breaking of the oplatek on Christmas Eve.

The oplatek (oplatki is the plural formis a thin wafer similar in consistency to a communion host  that is often stamped with an elaborate Christmas scene. Historically these would be distributed by religious to parishioners’ homes during the Advent season.

Blessed Bread

It is related to an Eastern tradition of giving out “blessed bread” after the celebration of the Divine Liturgy. This bread is not consecrated, but blessed by the priest as a way to extend the fruits of the Mass into the home.

The oplatek is meant to remind families of the Eucharistic bread at Mass and makes a further connection between Christmas and the gift of the Eucharist, the presence of God among us.

On Christmas Eve, the family eagerly awaits the first star in the night sky, recalling the star of Bethlehem that signaled the birth of the Savior. Once the star has been spotted, the Christmas Eve meal begins.

The table is traditionally covered with straw and a white cloth. In some homes this is reduced to a single plate, upon which rests the oplatek, as a symbol of Christ in the manger.

Reconciliation

The father (or eldest member of the family) begins the ceremony by taking the oplatek and breaking a piece off of it, giving it to his wife. When he does so, he may say what he is thankful for, wish her good health, or ask for forgiveness.

According to author Sophie Hodorowicz Knab, “My father used to say, ‘OK, I’m not the best, but I’ll try harder’… My mother would always say, ‘You work so hard and I appreciate you for that’ … The sharing of this unleavened bread with another person is sharing all that is good with life … It’s a time to tell each other, ‘I love you, I care about you.’ And you do it in an open area, where everyone else can see you.”

After this initial sharing, the oplatek is then shared with each member of the family in a similar manner, starting with the oldest down to the youngest. It is a touching ceremony, one that can help heal hurts from the past year.

After the breaking of the bread is completed, a small meal is served that eagerly anticipates the Midnight Mass, which many Polish families would attend on Christmas Eve.

The tradition has survived the test of time and is still celebrated in many parts of the world by various families, including many who come from a Slavic ancestry. It is a beautiful tradition, one that keeps the true “spirit of Christmas,” and unites a family to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ.

View the unique photos here:


LIGAWKA INSTRUMENT

Read more:
The spiritual roots of a fascinating Polish Advent tradition




Read more:
5 Polish saints who changed the world

Tags:
ChristmasPoland

Support Aleteia!

If you’re reading this article, it’s thanks to the generosity of people like you, who have made Aleteia possible.

Here are some numbers:

  • 20 million users around the world read Aleteia.org every month
  • Aleteia is published every day in seven languages: English, French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Polish, and Slovenian
  • Each month, readers view more than 50 million pages
  • Nearly 4 million people follow Aleteia on social media
  • Each month, we publish 2,450 articles and around 40 videos
  • We have 60 full time staff and approximately 400 collaborators (writers, translators, photographers, etc.)

As you can imagine, these numbers represent a lot of work. We need you.

Support Aleteia with as little as $1. It only takes a minute. Thank you!

Top 10
1
CELEBRITIES
Cerith Gardiner
Our favorite stories of celebrities who inspire us in daily life
2
communion
Philip Kosloski
How receiving Holy Communion can drive away demons
3
Kathleen N. Hattrup
Pope considers what to do with pro-abortion Catholic politicians
4
Berthe and Marcel
Lauriane Vofo Kana
This couple has the longest marriage in France
5
As irmãs biológicas que se tornaram freiras no instituto Iesu Communio
Francisco Veneto
The 5 biological sisters who joined the religious life in just tw...
6
CROSS
Philip Kosloski
Why is the feast of the Holy Cross celebrated on September 14?
7
SAINT ANTHONY OF PADUA
Philip Kosloski
This prayer to St. Anthony is said to have “never been known to f...
See More
Newsletter
Get Aleteia delivered to your inbox. Subscribe here.