Sharing Opłatek: the gift of words
The sharing of the oplatek on Christmas Eve is the most cherished of all Polish Christmas customs. On the eve of Christ's birth, gathered together at the table where they are about to share the evening meal, the people of Poland and their descendants scattered all over the world, first offer each other a thin piece of unleavened bread called opłatek and give each other the gift of spoken words. The custom predates Christmas trees and the presents found beneath it by centuries. Instead, bread is shared and the words said are a gift in verbal form.
And because the words said to one another at the time of sharing the oplatek are a gift, just as we would spend time searching the store for that perfect thing, so should we try to say the best possible words for that person: words of encouragement or praise about their current life or about their future goals or intentions; words of love and caring; words of reconciliation and forgiveness; words that the person can tuck in their hearts and keep there for a long time afterward. All it requires to bestow this gift is to give some careful thought to what we say.
At some social gatherings, it's happened that we find ourselves exchanging the opłatek with someone we don't know very well or not at all, but it is still an opportunity to gift another person with our words.
In the spirit of sharing opłatek I'd like to offer my word gift: May you prosper in all ways: spiritually, intellectually, creatively, materially; may whatever quest you are engaged in meet with success: may you and yours remain or return to good health:
Niech czas Bożego Narodzenia upłynie w atmosfersze radośći i miłosci, a Nowy Rok spełni wszystkie marzenie
May the Christmas season pass in an atmosphere of happiness and love and the New Year fulfill all your dreams.
Wesołych Świąt Bożego Narodzenia i szczęsliwego Nowego Roku.
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.
If the branch blossoms.....
Feast of St. Lucy: Św. Łucji December 13.
During the ancient times of the Julian calendar, December 13 was celebrated as the winter solstice, the official beginning of winter, marked by being the shortest day of the year and the longest night of the year. From then on, the days slowly become longer and the nights shorter. In 1582, when Pope Gregory the XIII changed the calendar to what we now know as the Gregorian calendar, the date of the winter solstice was changed to December 23.
In today's times we recognize December 13 as the feast of St. Lucy, a third century martyr, who dedicated her virginity to God and died a terrible death when she refused to marry. Remnants of the old Julian calendar still remain in some old Polish proverbs, passed on orally through the generations, as in :
" Swięta Łucja dnia przyrzuca. "The day(light) arrives with St. Lucy.
"Święto Łuci noc króci." St. Lucy shortens the night.
Perhaps the ancient celebration of the return of longer days, of light and increased sun, critical for bringing life back to trees and plants necessary for life accounts for this particular Polish custom:
On the day before the feast of St. Lucy, the girls place a branch of a cherry tree in a bottle filled with water and keep it in the window up to Christmas day. If the branch is covered in blossoms by this day, she will shortly marry. If not, she will remain single for a while yet.( Stanislaw Ciszewski. Lud Rolniczo-górniczy z okolic Sławkowa Powiecie Olkuskim. Kraków.1887) For others not looking for marriage prognostications, the blooms signify good luck and prosperity.
The success and failure of crops were (and still are!) so weather dependent that the day was also used to foretell future weather such as in the proverb:
"Święta Łucja głosi, jaką pogodę styczeń przynosi." St. Lucy announces what the weather will be in January.
The twelve days, beginning with the Feast of St. Lucy on December 13 until December 24, were carefully noted for each of those twelve days predicted what the weather will be throughout the upcoming twelve months of the year.
The feast day also officially marked the beginning of preparation for Christmas in earnest.
Roraty - the Advent mass
Today, December 2nd, marks the beginning of Advent season for 2019. In Polish tradition there is a beautiful custom surrounding Advent called roraty. It is a special early morning mass, before daybreak, devoted specifically to the Blessed Virgin Mary. The special name for this mass comes from the Introit, the opening antifon or Latin chant, Rorate Coeli, at the beginning of the mass. It was the prayer of the prophet Isaiah(45:8) begging the Lord for the arrival of a Savior.
The mass is said before dawn, in the dark, as a symbol that the world was in darkness until the arrival of Jesus as Light of the World. A special feature of the mass is the lighting of a special candle decorated with a white or blue ribbon, the colors associated with the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Gwiazda Zaranna, the Morning Star. Traditionally the liturgy began in the dark, the faithful often coming with their own candles to light their way.
In this day and age, when many do not have access to churches that still offer this mass, the faithful can still have their own rorata, their own candle that is lit each morning before dawn. It can be their own time of thoughtfulness, reflection and quiet prayer during the Advent season while listening to Rorate coeli the Latin chant that opens the mass.
One of the biggest moments in my life was being able to sign for my very own library card. When I'm not reading, researching and writing I'm riding my bike, sewing or gardening. I love flea markets, folk art, and traveling to Poland.