written by Lee Ann M. Pomrenke
“This year, I hope you get to play lots of video games.” It was not the most conventional blessing uttered along with our Polish oplatek tradition, but my 5-year-old daughter showed that she had put thought into what happiness means for her older sister and hoped good things for her.
Oplatek is a thin wafer similar to what some churches use for communion, with a pressed design of the nativity. In Poland, with variations in a few neighboring countries and among those of us with Polish heritage living elsewhere, families break the oplatek with each other on Christmas Eve, starting with the oldest member of the household, down to the youngest. When you offer your part of the wafer to another person to break off a piece, you also give them a blessing.
It can be a beautiful and somewhat uncomfortable practice. To bless someone, we need to ponder them for a moment. What are their needs? Their struggles? Their hopes? If we know the person well, perhaps we can voice a blessing of what we think they truly need (which may not – ahem – be what they think they need). Or maybe we need to offer something more generic, like good health or meaningful work. We all need those things too. Perhaps what we learn, in a moment of awkwardness, is that we have not given much thought to what we hope for the people who are supposed to be closest to us, so it takes awhile to come up with something. Last year my family shared the oplatek with mutual friends we had just met, while visiting my dear friend far from home over Christmas. When we are so far from family, our friends become our family.
While sharing the oplatek, even the children are expected to think about the adult before them, in order to bless them. One of our children blessed our friend with the intention of going to the beach more, which she took to heart all year long (she does live in Hawaii, after all). This year our children each had to think about what their visiting grandparents and uncle might need or what might bring them joy in the coming year. The oplatek tradition may have made its way into our family because of my parents and grandparents, but I am developing a love of it for how it gives us all the task of considering the blessings we hope for others. From those who seem to be in authority, down to the children we often perceive to be mostly recipients of what we provide, we all need each other’s thoughtful blessing. After all, God intends to bless the entire human family through the Christ child. Our children can certainly bestow blessings upon their elders, perhaps leading the way.
Photo taken by the author
Lee Ann M. Pomrenke is a Lutheran pastor and writer in St. Paul, Minnesota. Her first book Embodied: Clergy Women and the Solidarity of a Mothering God is forthcoming from Church Publishing, Inc. in fall 2020.