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Start the Oplatki Family Christmas Tradition

by Ian on October 5, 2010

Introduce the Oplatki Tradition to Your Family

Among Catholic families in Poland, Lithuania, Slovakia and the Czech Republic, the start of the traditional Wigilia (Christmas Eve Vigil) meal begins with the Oplatki, Oblatky, or Plotkele, a thin Communion-like rectangular wafer made of unleavened bread and stamped with different Christmas symbols. Some families call it the “bread of Love” and it is widely known in English-speaking countries simply as the Christmas wafer. Some eastern German families are also known to use a wafer called Opladen in their Christmas cooking.

The Bread of Life

The Oplatki tradition developed from earlier Christian traditions, such as the antidoron, in the Kingdom of Poland not long after Christianity came to the country in 966. The custom was adopted later by the Lithuanian, Czech and Slovak peoples and has made its way into countless other households who find that its rich symbolism is an easily adoptable Christmas custom which also carries profound meaning for Christians.

Poles, Slovaks, Czechs and Lithuanians are fortunate in preserving such a meaningful custom at Christmas, as an aid to a worthy reception of Holy Communion and as a family spiritual communion on this most joyous of Christian feasts. It is customary to have the Oplatki wafers blessed by the parish priest prior to Christmas Eve and many parishes provide the Oplatki for their parishioners.

Christmas Eve

Christmas Eve - Vigil of Christ's Birth

Following time-honored tradition, many families will begin their Christmas Eve celebration by waiting for the appearance of the first star in the early evening sky as they look toward the East. This first star appearing symbolizes the Star of Bethlehem which announced that the Great Light was coming into our world, to the “people who lived in darkness.”

The table at which the family gathers for the Christmas Eve dinner typically has some straw strewn beneath a fine white tablecloth to commemorate the birth of the Christ Child in the manger or cave where the animals lived. A more modern adaptation includes the use of straw or sprigs of evergreen which are placed on a serving platter and then covered with a fine white napkin on which the Oplatki wafers rest.

Learn more about the Oplatki tradition

How a Saint is Made

The current process for declaring someone a saint was established by Pope John Paul II in 1983 in the document Divinus Perfectionis Magister. This document continued a process of simplification started by Pope Paul VI during Vatican II.

So how do you get to be a saint?

First, you have to be dead at least for five years. Yes, I know that your mom is a saint, but unless she is dead the Church isn't going to take an interest in canonizing her. (Canonization is the Catholic term for declaring someone a saint.) The pope can waive the five year requirement but don't expect an exception on the death part.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Betsy Marchand October 5, 2010 at 5:35 pm

We have been doing Oplatki all our lives. It’s always been my favorite tradition. I have been ordering from a store in Detroit for a few years to get them down here in Texas. It’s nice to know there is another option now! Thanks for stocking them!


Genevieve October 5, 2010 at 10:05 pm

I remember doing this one Christmas as a child. I remember it clearly because my father, who was not one to show his emotions, had tears in his eyes as he broke the wafer and passed it around. My aunt, a Dominican nun in Milwaukee, sent the Oplatki to us in Australia. I will certainly look into continuing this in my own family now that I know the history. Thank you for the information.


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