Catholic Activity: Slovakian Generous Supper
Christmas Eve among the Slovaks is called Stedry Vecer, or "Generous Eve." Indeed this is a very appropriate name, for on this night the most generous gift of God was lavished upon us - He sent His only Begotten Son to save us. Accordingly, the Slovaks prepare a very elaborate supper. They keep a rigid fast all day; in fact, those of the old school eat absolutely nothing all day until this "Generous Supper," as they call it.
At this supper, there is a special menu that is adhered to with very few deviations. As a rule, it consists of a special soup made of sourkraut brine and dried mushrooms, cooked peas, turnips, and Opekance, - a delicious dish made up of tiny cakes or dumplings in a sauce of poppy seed and honey. Then there are the Kolace, or Slovak pastry, nuts, and a sip of wine for everybody.
Only the most urgent reason would keep a member of the family from being present at this supper. Some travel hundreds of miles from other cities and states just to be present with the folks at this supper. If the absence of one of the members is absolutely unavoidable, a cover is set for him, and all due remembrance is made to the missing one.
The supper is usually held at a late hour so that no one need be late. The head of the family, usually the father, says a special grace. Then a specially formulated Christmas wish is recited which lays stress on God's blessing for the family, on health, on success in all labors, and peace and good will among neighbors. The souls of the faithful departed are then prayed for, special mention being made of members of the family who were present the year before, but who had gone to their eternal reward since.
The first food eaten is the Oplatky already described. It is to remind us of the "Bread that came down from heaven" - Christ coming as God and man. Usually, the father serves the Oplatky. He takes one wafer at a time, puts a little honey on it, and hands it to each member of the family. The adding of the honey signifies the goodness of God.
A very lovely custom is this: if Slovaks know of a person who is destitute or very poor and alone, they invite him to the Christmas Eve supper, and they treat him with as much consideration and respect as they do a member of the family. If there are any servants in the household they also sit at the family table for the evening.
Towards the end of the meal, while still at the table, the family may be aroused from their reminiscing by strains of music, and the singing of Christmas Carols. This announces the coming of the Jaslickare, a group of young men dressed as shepherds and angels. One of them carries he "Bethlehem," a representation of the stable where our Saviour was bom. They very respectfully ask permission to enter the house and when the permission is given, they come in and recall in song and verse the events of the first Holy Night. After this the family spends the evening in singing Christmas Carols, until it is time to go to Church for Midnight Mass.
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