Catholic Activity: Polish Wigilia
To the Polish people there is no part of the year that is more sacred than Christmas. Christmas is more than just a holiday for the exchanging of gifts. It is a holiday closely connected with family life and it means Wigilia and the sharing of the Oplatek (Wafer) with all those that are near and dear to them.
The day before Christmas, the Polish housewives are busy preparing the meatless feast, which consists of five to eleven dishes. The number is always uneven to insure good luck and health for the household during the coming year! It is believed that the more dishes that are served the greater the good fortune that will come to the family. Care is taken that the number of guests at the Christmas Eve Feast be even, for an uneven number means death to one of those present. A vacant place is always left for an unexpected guest. No one is ever turned away from any Polish home on Christmas Eve.
Christmas Eve supper is not served until the first star appears in the sky. In many homes no food is served during the whole day, so the appearance of the first star is eagerly awaited, especially by children.
Hay is placed under the table cloth in commemoration of the "Manger of Bethlehem." In some homes sheaves of wheat are placed in comers of the rooms; this is supposed to assure a plentiful crop for the coming year. The table is decorated with traditional evergreen and mistletoe. An attractively dressed tree can be seen in one corner of the room where the guests gather to be entertained and sing Christmas Carols. There is a miniature manger in practically every home. Gifts, especially for the children, are distributed on Christmas Eve.
Before supper the head of the family says grace, then shares the Christmas wafer with all, beginning with the eldest and concluding with the youngest member. The Oplatek or Christmas wafer is a symbol of Christ and serves as a reminder that in accepting Christ one must love his neighbor. Hence, in the sharing of the oplatek all discussions, quarrels and misunderstandings must cease - brotherly love must reign.
No beggar, nor stranger can be refused admittance to the home because it may be Christ in disguise.
Activity Source: Your Home, A Church in Miniature by Compiled by The Family Life Bureau in the early 1950s, The Neumann Press, Long Prairie, Minnesota, 1994