Christmas wafer is a central European Christian Christmas tradition celebrated in Poland, Lithuania and Slovakia during Wigilia, or the Christmas Eve Vigil.
The unleavened wafers are baked from pure wheat flour and water, are usually rectangular in shape and very thin; they are identical in composition to the round wafers that become the Host after the Consecration during Mass in the Roman Catholic Church. Being only a reminder of the Body of Christ used in private homes, Oplatki lack sanctification by a priest or bishop. The Oplatki wafers are embossed with Christmas related religious images, varying from the nativity scene, especially Virgin Mary with baby Jesus, to the Star of Bethlehem.
Observance and Practice
Before partaking of the Christmas Eve meal, the family gathers around the table. The eldest member holds a large wafer and breaks off a piece to begin the ritual. The remaining wafer is passed on to another member while a prayer for loved ones is said. This continues until everyone at the table has a piece of the wafer. Finally, the family members consume their share quietly
History and Cultural Importance
The breaking of the Christmas wafer is a custom that began in Poland in the 10th century and is practiced by people of Polish ancestry around the world . It is considered the most ancient and beloved of Polish traditions.
In Poland and some parts of Central Europe, these Christmas wafers are dyed and used as ornaments. They are also sent as small trinkets with greeting cards to loved ones who are away from home.
The Christmas wafer symbolizes the unity of the family, which many consider to be the main pillar of society. According to beliefs, the bond of unity should exist between family members. The father is seen as the link in the unbroken chain of One Body, One Bread, One Christ, and One Church, while other family members join him in this eternal procession. The wafer also symbolizes forgiveness and reconciliation
Christmas wafers (oplátky) in Slovakia are round (usually oval) and embossed with various Christmas motifs. They are eaten with honey
(and sometimes with garlic
) at the beginning of Christmas Eve's dinner.