Oplatki (or oplatek) wafers are a popular, family-centered Christmas tradition enjoyed by families from Eastern Europe. The Oplatki tradition originated in Poland during the early days of Christianity. This Christmas custom began with a simple white wafer baked from flour and water. Today, Oplatki wafers are very thin with a look and feel not unlike the Communion host. Each wafer is rectangular in shape with a Christmas image pressed into them, such as the Nativity, the Star of Bethlehem, or the Holy Family.
The name "oplatki" or "oplatek" may vary depending on whether the tradition is being observed by families with a Polish, Slovak or Lithuanian background. It is also sometimes called "Angel Bread" which is English translation. In America the tradition is simply called "Christmas Wafers". Whatever the country, many nationalities have come to love this warm and wonderful Christian tradition.
The Christmas wafer tradition began because the word Bethlehem means "House of Bread." The breaking of bread has long been a sign of charity, unity, and friendship in many cultures. The Oplatki reminds us of this symbol of communion common to humanity, as well as in a fuller way the Eucharistic meal that Catholics participate in at each Mass. Just as we share in the Eucharist as one family in Christ and receive Christ's love through the Eucharist, the Oplatki wafer allows for one's family to come together and share the love they have for one another.
The Oplatki Christmas tradition, as it is commonly celebrated in the home, goes something like this: Just before the Christmas Eve meal the entire family will gather around the table with the Christmas wafer. Generally the eldest member of the family, usually the father or mother, will begin the ritual by breaking off a piece of the wafer and passing it to another family member while giving a blessing. This blessing can simply consist of what you desire for your loved one in the upcoming year - whether it be good health, growth in God's grace, or happiness. It can also be a request for forgiveness and a desire for reconciliation. The Christmas wafer is then passed from person to person around the table until all have had a piece and all have been given blessings. Each person then consumes their piece of the Oplatek in a special display of love and solidarity between the whole family.
Friends of the family or other guests can also be invited to join in this Christmas tradition. The purpose of this act is primarily to express ones unconditional love and forgiveness for one another. This tradition can vary slightly depending on the nationality, or the celebration may be made more elaborate by including more symbolism, but this is generally the foundational idea.
If you have family and friends who live far away or overseas, the Christmas wafer is an excellent way to reach out to them and let them know they are loved and missed and still are an integral part of the family or group. The Oplatki wafers are so thin and surprisingly sturdy that they can be carefully mailed in a Christmas card without breaking. Today, many also purchase oplatek wafers to share among a special group of friends, such as friends from church or friends from the classroom. You can even send several Oplatki wafers to your friends and family members so that they can enjoy the tradition with those who are special to them.
However you incorporate the Oplatek tradition into your family, it is sure to be a wonderful way to celebrate the Christmas spirit: peace, love, joy, and goodwill.