When I was a young child and lived in Ohio, I remember our Christmas celebrations including oplatki, the thin, communion wafer-like “Christmas bread” that is a tradition among Eastern European Catholics. My mother is Slovak and ethnic churches are plentiful in Ohio.
When I was an older child, we moved to Richmond, Virginia. The Catholic population was not as dense there, and the ethnic groups were not very diverse. Oplatki was not available locally, so the only times we had it were years we happened to be in Ohio for Thanksgiving or some other occasion in the late fall.
I introduced the use of oplatki with my own family several years ago when I found it available online. The oplatki is shared on Christmas Eve. The children watch the sky for the “First Star” – the sign that the Christ Child is here. In my family, we then process with the infant Jesus statue and place him in our creche. We bless the creche, then we bless the Christmas tree and officially light it. Then we sit and eat because our food has been growing cool while we attended to ceremonies. At some point, I will remember and say, “Oh! The oplatki!” and I will scurry around trying to discover the “safe spot” where I put the envelope. Usually, I find it.
The oplatki wafers are handed out. My husband makes some sort of formal speech wishing everyone a happy Christmas and a blessed upcoming year. And then there is mild chaos as we all break off pieces to exchange with each other as we give out kisses, hugs and cheery greetings. I thoroughly enjoy our Christmas Eve festivities which are all about love and not at all about stuff.
It may seem early to be talking about Christmas, but oplatki is available for order now. If you would like to try this tradition (or revive it), then plan ahead. Be sure to put your wafers in a “safe spot” you can remember.