Catholic Activity: Christmas Eve Supper
This Christmas Eve supper is a Slovakian tradition, in which all the family members reunite for a meal, which marks the end of the traditional Christmas vigil fast. Formerly, Christmas Eve was a day of fast and abstinence, but that is no longer required.
The Slovaks call Christmas Eve Stedry Vecer, or "Generous Eve." It is the occasion for what they call the "Generous Supper." During the Vigil of Christmas a rigid fast is kept — many eat nothing up till the time of the supper. This custom is more than a mere supper; it is a family reunion. There are few things that would keep any member of the family away. In fact, some people travel many hundreds of miles to be present with the family. The supper is held rather late in the evening, so there is no need for anyone to be late. The head of the family says a special grace. Then a special Christmas wish is given in which God's blessing is called down upon the family in general, for health, success, peace and good will. A prayer is next said for the holy souls, especially for those of the family who had died during the previous year.
The first thing eaten is the Oblatky, a rather large oval-shaped wafer which is to remind the family of the "Bread that came down from heaven". The head of the family, the father, passes out one wafer at a time after putting a little honey on it. Each member of the family receives one. The honey represents the goodness and gifts of God.
If the family knows of someone who is very poor or has no place to go, they invite him to the supper also. Any such guests and any servants of the house eat with the family and are treated as a member of the family.
Among the Polish people the Christmas Eve supper is very much like that of the Slovaks. Supper is served when the first star is seen in the sky. Since in many of the homes no food of any type is served during the day, everyone, but especially the children, look forward to the appearance of that first star. Under the table cloth some hay is placed in memory of the Manger where Jesus lay.
Instead of individual wafers, the Polish family serves the Oplatek. This is a large wafer or cake similar to the Oblatky. It represents Christ and is divided among all the family present. Before the Oplatek may be eaten, all dissensions, quarrels and misunderstandings that may exist between family members must be done away with.
No beggar or stranger may be refused admittance to the supper: he may be Christ in disguise. After supper the gifts are exchanged and Christmas hymns are sung until time for the Midnight Mass.
Activity Source: How to Make Your House a Home by Rev. Bernard Stokes, O.F.M., Family Life Bureau, Washington D.C., 1955