Whether you’re only a little bit Polish or have pierogi running through your veins, one of the most beloved and sacred Polish traditions is the breaking of the opłatek on Christmas Eve, or Wigilia. Practiced for centuries, it represents all the good of Christmas—faith, family and friendship.
An opłatek is basically the same bread wafer you have at church, except it’s unconsecrated. Experts believe that the practice of sharing opłatek evolved from an earlier practice in which Poles shared podpłomyk, or thin, flat bread made on fire-heated stones. This meal was common in ancient Slavic societies before Christianity. The opłatek wafer was developed later by the Benedictines of Cluny in Burgundy, France and spread throughout Europe, reaching Poland.
Eventually, the practice of sharing the opłatek on Christmas Eve became commonplace and is today practiced within Polish families around the world. Family members, typically starting with the husband and wife, wish each other health, happiness and good fortune. The person receiving the wishes breaks off a piece of opłatek from the person offering them and eats it. Some families do it the opposite way. No matter how they do it, though, the meaning remains the same. It’s a custom that unites the entire family, from the youngest toddler, to the oldest patriarch, in a symbolic display of love and Christmas spirit.
Since it’s Christmas Eve today, or Wigilia, I want to symbolically share an opłatek with every person reading this. I wish all of you the best of health in the coming year, as nothing is more important. I wish you success in all of your endeavors, be they acquiring a new job, finishing school, finding that special someone, or comfortably retiring. Finally, I wish that all of you find a little bit of happiness every day of your lives. Reflect upon and be appreciative of everything God has given you, and you will never have a sad moment.