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A pilgrimage for Grandpa’s opłatek: A Polish-American Christmas Tale

Grandpa’s strength was waning and his low spirits hinted that his 95th Christmas could well be his last. So sons, daughters and grandchildren scoured area department stores for a special gift to delight the family patriarch. The hunt netted a pile of flannel shirts, thermal underwear and even an electric blanket.

A small Christmas tree twinkled in the front window, and Christmas Eve morning found Uncle Joe and Aunt Helen on duty in the kitchen. The traditional, meatless Vigil supper had been a tradition which Grandpa and Grandma had maintained even after they came to the United States at the turn of the century. It included fish, potatoes, cabbage and the most delicious sautéed mushrooms that ever graced a cast-iron skillet.

Christmas wafer (Opłatek)
Christmas wafer (Opłatek)
The whole house was filled with the warm, spicy aroma of a holiday kitchen. Grandpa stood in the doorway surveying the long dining room chairs and table set for company, then turned and said: “Staś, where is the opłatek?”

“Oh, I guess we just forgot about the wafer this year, grandpa” came his distracted reply. “But how can we have Christmas without the wafer?” he asked. In a single moment, weeks of planning had crumbled. The gifts, the lights and tinsel, the fine dinner were nice, but they were not essential. His Christmas centered on the sharing of love and peace, captured in this age-old custom.

A quick phone call to the pastor confirmed that a few packets of Christmas wafer were still available, so the brief walk over icy streets became a true Christmas pilgrimage.

That evening, Grandpa relived the love of his long-deceased wife. He transcended time and distance to share the Christmas ritual just as he had as a boy in the Tatra Mountain foothills.

On what indeed would prove to be Grandpa’s last Christmas, in the sharing of the opłatek the whole family discovered the true meaning and joy of Christ’s coming.

(Based on the true-life experience of Stanley Konieczny of Bellville, Illinois, as presented in Father Czesław Krysa’s highly recommended book “A Polish Christmas Eve”)

Author/Source: Robert Strybel