Transcript of CS#129: Oplatki Christmas Wafers

Transcript of Interview with Michelle Reitemeyer, Megan Smillie, and Karen Grant about oplatki christmas wafers and the traditions surrounding them. This interview and others like it can be found at http://www.catholicspotlight.com

Listen Now to the audio version of the show.

Oplatki at The Catholic Company.

http://www.catholiccompany.com/white-pink-oplatki-christmas-wafers-p9990270/

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Cash: This is the Catholic Spotlight, the show where we talk about what’s new, cool, and exciting in the Catholic marketplace. I’m your host, Chris Cash, director of eCommerce from catholiccompany.com, your source for all your Catholic needs. And today is pretty exciting because number 1, it’s been several months since we’ve had a show and I’m really excited to get started again and get some shows up there. I appreciate any of you listeners out there who’ve been hanging on and waiting for a new show. It’s finally here and today, we’re going to be talking about something that is really cool and kind of different from a lot of our other shows. We’re talking about Oplatki and I have three excellent guests on today to share with us about their experience with Oplatki in their personal households and in one case, how they want to start using Oplatki in their personal households, a celebration of Christmas. So starting off, we have Michelle Reitemeyer and I practiced a lot to get that right. Did I get it?

Michelle: You got it. Very good.

Chris: So Michelle Reitemeyer and she’s from Georgia and your blog is…

Michelle: The Rosetta Stone which actually URL because I don’t teach foreign language on my blog is mreitemeyer.blogspot.com but you can Google Rosetta Stone blog or Michelle Reitemeyer and you can find it there.

Chris: Very cool and then also on the line, we have Megan Smillie from Texas.

Megan: Yes, I blog under Life in a Nutshell and my URL is actually the lastthingonmymind.blogspot.com because it usually is even though I really enjoy writing and I’m from Texas.

Chris: And finally, we have Karen Grant from New Jersey.

Karen: Hi, I blog at Karen’s Adventures in Mommyland and you can find that at kareninmommyland.com.

Chris: I tell you. I always get such a kick out of everybody’s blog names and the creativity that goes into some of that. I’m the engineering type; I’m not that creative so I always admire that. Well, I guess starting off, we just want to talk about what is Oplatki and Michelle was going to share with us just kind of a general overview and history of Oplatki, where it comes from, and why it is such an integral part of the Christmas celebration in some cultures.

Michelle: Okay, sure Chris. They did it in Poland pretty much at the beginning of the time that Christianity started in Eastern Europe and their Oplatki is a little Christmas bread, Christmas wafers, the one I’ve seen they’re about the size of your hand and there’s usually a nativity scene printed on them and they resemble communion wafers and that’s intentional because it really harkens to the Eucharist and it’s that celebration of the breaking of the bread. It’s a reminder of the Eucharist that we all come together to share and it’s just a really neat tradition.

Chris: Now, are Oplatki consecrated?

Michelle: No, no. I do think that in some places, they send their general blessing but now of course, they’re not consecrated.

Chris: Yeah, I knew the answer. I just wanted to make sure we got that in there.

Michelle: Yes, right. I know you know the answer but…

Chris: Now what is the purpose of having the Oplatki in the household?

Michelle: Okay, I do a Jesse tree also and my symbol for the…the last symbol that goes up on the 24th is a manger but coming out of the manger is the Chiro and there’s this foreshadowing with the birth of Christ, of the fact that well, it’s not just about the birth of the baby. He wouldn’t be our Savior if He didn’t also suffer and die for us and then open the gates of heaven. So when you have this communion wafer symbol, this Eucharist symbol, you have that foreshadowing of…even though you have this joyous birth, even more joyous is being able to go to heaven and so you have that foreshadowing there but also the traditional breaking of bread and sharing with one another, it’s that love, it’s the wishing each other, the happiness for the coming year and whether it’s prosperity or peace in your life or whatever, you have that opportunity once a year as a family to come together and share those blessings with each other that maybe during the rest of the year, you’re not always so quick to call to mind as you’re going through your daily life.

Chris: Sounds like a good plan for Christmas obviously. Now there’s a special kind of dinner that goes along with Oplatki celebration and Megan was going to share just a little bit about this dinner and how it is traditionally celebrated as well as maybe talk a little about the practicalities of how it happens in your household.

Megan: Okay well, first a huge disclaimer. I don’t actually do this dinner. It’s my mother. So she has done it for years. I think she started when I was in junior high and her mother did it before that and then her grandmother did it before that and it’s supposed to start out with the children looking for the first start, usually the north star. The way that you set the table and Michelle, jump in here if I miss anything, you put straws under the tablecloth to symbolize the manger and after the children see the first star, you bring the baby Jesus to the *** [00:06:29] and place Him in there and maybe sing a song or something. Sometimes there was an extra place set at the table for Christ so there’ll be a seat there that’s all set for Him to join us. And then we do the Oplatki. We call the Oplatek. I’m not sure how it’s exactly with the…

Chris: Technically, Oplatki is plural and Oplatek is singular.

Megan: Okay. And so we say our grace and we each take our Oplatek and we go around the table, walking around the table and we take from each other, so you break off a piece from the other person and you wish him a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year and you give them a hug and you eat from their Oplatek and you just around and you make sure you get everyone. And then we’d do five courses with cookies and sweets at the end. The first course is pickled herring with sour cream and crackers. That of course is usually skipped by most of the family. Pickled herring is not really something that everyone looks forward to.

Chris: At least not in our culture.

Megan: No, no.

Chris: I’m sure it must be a delicacy somewhere.

Megan: It must be. It must be. The next one we do is a borscht. It’s a very creamy soup. That might be the mushroom soup that you were talking about earlier in the show. My mom actually does make it and it’s my favorite course. You put rye bread and you cut up boiled eggs. We also do kielbasa which is not usually…that’s not a traditional thing that you would do. Kielbasa is traditionally Polish but not for the beginning of dinner. Usually the beginning of dinner is meatless. But anyway, we put that in there and hash browns like potatoes. It’s a very hearty food. The next course is the kapusta which nobody in my family eats. It’s a cabbage and corn, I think, kind of like a casserole-type thing.

Chris: I think you’re going to have to send me the spelling of all these things for our transcriptionist who’s going to have a field day trying to spell it all.

Megan: [Laughter] That’s funny. So we do look at…the next is the pirogi and everybody knows about pirogi. The fillings that my mother does are cheese, cabbage, and then she also does a blueberry.

Michelle: Oh!

Megan: Yeah, the blueberry is really good.

Chris: I’ve had Christmas strawberry pirogis that were just incredible but…

Megan: Yeah, this can be like a dessert. I mean it’s just…no meat filling. The last thing she does is she makes some sort of fish like cod or something because traditionally, it should be carp because it’s a very cheap fish and so in Poland because there’s a lot of poverty, the people are using things like cabbage and carp and potatoes and eggs and stuff to form this meal. And then, she’ll also go out and buy these special cookies called chrusp cookies. I think that’s spelled C-H-R-U-S-P for your transcriptionist.

Chris: Thanks.

Megan: And they’re like just kind of wafer cookies, not Oplatek but almost like Italian cookies with the powdered sugar on it and then they look like steel points or whatever and that’s what we do. Other traditions are to have a shot of vodka between each course. I guess my siblings did that last through. I feel it’s a lot more interesting.

Michelle: I guess if you get older, you can do these things. And my mother said when she was growing up, Santa…Father Christmas would come. At the end, they’d hear the bells outside and the children would run outside and let Father Christmas in and he’d bring them presents and then they’d all go to midnight Mass so that’s kind of…

Chris: After all those shots of vodka…

Michelle: Yes, believe it or not, I think they made it through. But being American, it’s kind of difficult to make all of these things. My mother has had years of practice and a lot of tradition behind her watching her mother and her grandmother do it. I don’t know if I would be able to do all of that but we’re starting with the project and we will personally be working our way through there, probably skipping the pickled herring for a while but we’ll see what we can do.

Chris: Now you mentioned about everybody taking a bite out of everyone else’s bread. Is there symbolic meaning to that?

Megan: That is a good question, Michelle? Do you know what that symbolism is?

Michelle: Well, it’s not really a bite. You break off a piece and you share. Yeah, everybody usually has their own wafer and like I said, they’re about the size of my hand so there’s plenty there and everybody can just have a small bite so that you’re all sharing together. I think that the whole point is just that you’re all sharing together.

Chris: Now, I’ve also heard some people actually included their pets in the sharing.

Megan: Their pets?

Michelle: Supposedly…I’ve read this on your website. I’ve never seen it but yes, supposedly there’s the pink wafer but I cannot attest to this, having never witnessed that before but I have a dog. I don’t know, maybe I’ll give the dog some pink wafer this year but I cannot confirm or deny the rumor about the pet sharing.

Megan: I guess that answers my question about the pink wafer.

Chris: [Laughter]

Michelle: Now my girls fight over the pink wafers so there’s a little bit may…

Megan: Nothing less for the dog.

Michelle: It’s the one everyone wants.

Megan: Yes.

Chris: It’s just special, I’m sure. All right, well, we’re going to take a real short break here to hear from our sponsor and when we come back, we’ll be talking a little bit more with the ladies about the Oplatki celebration and how it’s done in their households. This is the Catholic Spotlight.

Chris: And we’re back on the Catholic Spotlight with Michelle Reitemeyer, Megan Smillie, and Karen Grant talking about Oplatki and this lovely tradition that we’re trying to help promote and bring back in this country. It has such a rich traditional symbolism in it and it is a great way to promote sharing and family togetherness at Christmas. So going back over to Michelle, would you be so kind as to share a little bit about your personal family traditions around the Oplatki?

Michelle: Sure, we as Megan described, the children are set to look for the first star which keeps them out of the kitchen so you finish getting things done and we’ve usually been blessed with cloudy weather so I can get everything cooked and there’s no star appearing at all and then we finally, we send out to convince them that a plane or an aerial or something is actually the first star and then we go into the celebration and we do a candlelight procession to the crèche bringing the Infant Jesus to our crèche scene and we bless the crèche. We usually sing Silent Night or something and my husband is not a big singer type but he still manages to participate as long as there’s nobody else around and we bless our Christmas tree. We light the Christmas officially for the first time and then we usually start the meal. I don’t do different courses. I’m not just that…usually we have an infant or a little child who’s bothering me. This would be my youngest is three this Christmas so it’ll probably be a little bit easier for me to do things but I tend to just bring the food out and we always forget the Oplatki and so probably five or ten minutes into dinner and then I go, “Oh, we forgot.” And I run around trying to find it and usually…there have been a couple of years where I put it in such a safe spot that I could not find it.

Chris: Note to everyone, make sure you put your Oplatki where you can find it.

Michelle: So anyway, and my mother, she always…when she was raising…always dipped it in honey. That was one additional thing and sometimes I do that. The kids like it a little bit. It makes it a little bit sweeter and the kids usually enjoy, especially those who are too young and have not received their first Holy Communion yet, they recognize that this tastes a lot like Communion wafers so they’re very eager to try. And I have not always done the shot but my mother did always do a shot and I know that is traditional. I did get to enjoy a dinner in Slovakia at a family’s house once and yes, you start the dinner with a shot of vodka. They didn’t do it in between the courses but they definitely did at the beginning. So maybe I’ll try to remember vodka this year too, I don’t know. And I don’t usually put the straw under the table. I don’t usually have room. This year, I actually will have room at my table. I could put an extra plate setting but I love it. I think those traditions are beautiful. It’s just constraint with you have six children and a small dining room. Yeah, my kids have American taste buds and so our food…we have pirogis. There have been years that we’ve had fish sticks just because I’ve had an infant and not been able to make more elaborate than that. I’ve made onion soup instead of a mushroom soup or whatever. And then of course, there’s always lots of cookies and stuff for dessert so at the very least they fill up on that if they don’t prefer any of the other food but we’re very…we’re definitely very flexible and not feeling that we have to rigidly apply the actual Polish-type meal to our celebration and it’s still a good celebration even if you don’t have the Polish food.

Chris: Very cool and now finally we’re going to talk with Karen Grant for just a few minutes. Karen, you have never done Oplatki in your house before, correct?

Karen: That is correct.

Chris: So what was it that made you decide that you should try it this year?

Karen: Well, every year when we gather, our holiday celebrations with my husband’s side of the family, his one aunt is always mentioning…they’re of Slavic descent but we don’t really see any of the Slavic heritage in anything. A lot of the Italian celebration seems to overshadow anything Slavic in his family. So I mean, it’d be a nice way to teach the girls a little bit about their Slavic culture and heritage and I try to give them something from all their heritage. We do things that are Irish. We do things that are German like we have the pickle on the tray. There’s different things that I could do and I like to incorporate everything so that they have a really cool sense of their heritage.

Chris: Oh, so you actually do the Christmas pickle as well.

Karen: Yes.

Megan: And we do too, I love that.

Karen: I love my Christmas pickle.

Chris: I have seen several debates including internally at Catholic Company about whether or not anybody actually did that and…[laughter].

Megan: Oh, I think it matters.

Karen: I suspect that they’re getting my pickle glass…I have a glass Christmas pickle and it’s actually not the last thing that goes on our tray. I hide it when the kids are not there and then they have to try to find it. So we kind of have a variation on it.

Chris: Well, I have always been an advocate that somebody must do it or else they wouldn’t be around. [Laughter]

Karen: Somebody started it somewhere.

Chris: And do you have any specific plans, Karen, for how you’re going to celebrate this?

Karen: Well, I figured we’d be doing it before dinner, probably either right before or right after grace but it’s more than likely going to be an Italian dinner because that’s what my kids like. They’re not going to go for Slavic food. We’ve had it at different family functions and they just steer clear of it. They find the tray with the cookies and that’s where they hang out.

Chris: Hey, that sounds like me.

Karen: Maybe if I made the Slavic cookies or something like but I’d have to look for some recipes.

Chris: All right, well, we’re running to the end of the show here. I just wanted to give everybody one last chance, if there was something else that they wanted to share about the tradition or even something else going on that they wanted to share about real quick. Michelle, did you have anything else you wanted to share?

Michelle: No, I think I’m all talked out now.

Chris: [Laughter] All right, and Megan?

Megan: I just want to encourage people to try it if they so choose. I know my mom’s very…it’s changed over the years as things have changed. She used to make all of her own produce. I think she orders them now and same with the cookies. You don’t need to kill yourself making everything and to try different things. If your children aren’t going to like mushroom soup which most kids don’t, then do other things but I think establishing some sort of a tradition is wonderful and our faith is so rich and so filled with wonderful things to do. This year, we’ll be having a newborn so we’ll do the *** [00:22:05] but maybe next year. Next year, I can branch out a little bit so take my own advice.

Chris: And Karen, did you have any final wisdom for us?

Karen: Not really, I think it’s good to just explore other traditions for your kids especially if it’s part of their heritage and it’s a way to help them get in touch with their roots.

Chris: Well, thank you so much, ladies for taking this time to spend with us out of your busy schedules. I hope that all you listeners out there appreciate learning about these traditions and find some way to incorporate it into your own personal Christmas celebration this year. It’s been great talking with you and everybody have a wonderful day and God bless!

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Transcript of Interview with Michelle Reitemeyer, Megan Smillie, and Karen Grant about oplatki christmas wafers and the traditions surrounding them. This interview and others like it can be found at http://www.catholicspotlight.com

Listen Now to the audio version of the show.

Oplatki at The Catholic Company.

http://www.catholiccompany.com/white-pink-oplatki-christmas-wafers-p9990270/

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