Sharing OPLATEK and Love Across the Miles

When I first got married thirty years ago, my husband Todd did not hug his parents hello or good-bye or anytime for that matter. It pretty much stops around the age of one or two he told me.

“Really? I sat on my Dad’s lap when I was twenty-seven and he had cancer.”

Things were very different in my Polish/Sicilian household.

Well my new husband longed to hug his parents hello and good bye and so I told him I would help. We would work on it.

When we went to visit them, I would set Todd up. They typically line up at the door when we leave.

“I’ll go first. I’ll hug them one right after the other as we are leaving the house. You follow close behind and do exactly as I do, right after me.”

And so I’d hug them and Todd would follow and do absolutely nothing.

We’d get in the car and I’d turn to look at him and ask, “WHAT happened?”

“I couldn’t do it. It was so hard”

“WHAT could be so hard about hugging your parents good-bye? Ok, we’ll try it next time.”

It actually took a few years but he finally did it and when he did, his mother cried HARD! It actually took her YEARS until she did not cry when he hugged her good-bye.

I would get in the car and look at him and say, “Amazing. If this was something that was so badly needed in your family, why didn’t somebody do it before this?”

I make them all hug hello and good-bye when we visit, whether they like it or not.  I’m thinking that they like it though.

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Sierra and I found our relatives during a recent trip to Poland (check out blog) and did some serious hugging and kissing while we were there. At Christmastime, they sent me a package of goodies and in it was a white envelope containing an ancient Polish custom, the unleavened wafer bread called, oplatek (pronounced opwatek).  The word is thought to be from the Latin oblatum, meaning “holy bread,” perhaps referring to manna, the unleavened bread given to the Hebrews as they wandered in the desert. The oplatek is embossed with a picture of the Nativity scene or other Christmas-related picture. Sharing of the oplatek is the most ancient and beloved of all Polish Christmas traditions. Our Polish relatives across the sea wanted us to share in this happy tradition.

The father or eldest member of the family breaks the wafer and gives one half to the mother. Then each of them breaks a small part of each other’s piece and, after a warm kiss, they wish each other long life, good health, joy and happiness, not only for the holiday season, but for the coming year and for many years to come.

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My brother-in-law, John Mikulsky (another Pole!) who is the eldest, began the custom. We then took our piece around to each member of the family, breaking off a bit of each other’s bread while sharing a brief expression of love. If there is a wrong from the past year between two people, this is the time to mend the rift by asking for forgiveness and reconciliation. This Polish custom dates back to pre-Christian times, and is still practiced in many Polish homes throughout the world.

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Well, in my cozy log home at Christmastime, serving eighteen Ross family members, there was a lot of squeezing by and arms being flung around necks and kisses planted on cheeks.  We took photos for our Polish relatives far across the ocean and sent them our love, holding up our sliver of oplatek, a gift from them, to us. Even though except for Sierra and I, none had ever met, it did not matter. The sharing of oplatek was just a wonderful excuse to show some love in my family, for even the Pennsylvania German members!Christmas with the Ross's 003

13 thoughts on “Sharing OPLATEK and Love Across the Miles

  1. Love it. What a great tradition. Hope our friend reads this. Not that I think it would do much good. I get the feeling he is not much of a hugger. Tell todd, real men hug. Good for him.

    Jamey

    Sent from my iPad

    >

  2. Cindy, this is so heartwarming! I come from a family of the reserved when it comes to physical, even emotional, affection. And I turned into a major hugger and kisser! ;-D

  3. Thanks Cindy – Reminds me of my Polish heritage, and yes our bunch also shared Oplatek at our Christmas dinner.  Your Christmas letter was great by the way.  I will be in touch this year, and hope (really! with all your eternal projects and traveling) we can pin you down to do another modeling at our art alliance Thursday morning workshop.  Have a terrific new year, but of course I know you will.  Barbara

    • hey Barb- my doll- want to come and see you Hawk Mtn paintings too, which I would have loved to join you on but life is full right now! Will try to model for you guys this year too- keeps me humble stripping down nude at my age!

  4. Loved this one. The Bricks always hug and kiss each other coming and going. I kissed my dad after football games on the field in front of thousands of people no problem. Wish I could kiss him again right now. Still kiss my brothers whenever we see each other. All the nieces and nephews give the room good night kisses when they head to bed.

    The tough one is my aunt Katy she is well known for the peanut kiss. Everyone in the family knows it’s coming. She somehow manages to position herself near a peanut bowl when it’s time to go. Her actions are unintentional of course and her timing is priceless. She will grab a mouthful of peanuts and then go around and kiss everybody. Leaving a bunch of family members in her wake wiping peanuts from their lips. I’ll have to introduce you to her :-)’;,

    I loved the Opletek tradition Maybe we could sub peanuts for the Opletek

    ________________________________

    • oh my God, Timmy, that is s friggin funny- I need to meet Aunt Katy myself someday. I can’t wait to give YOU a big hug and kiss and make some memories this summer. I sent you a message about when etc- did you get it? Thank you for being my friend. Love you! Cindy

  5. Love it and hug to you Cindy – wish you were in the picture (perils of being the photographer!) Joanne looks great – tell her I said Hi and plan a trip to Brandywine Valley soon – Happy 2014 to you and wonderful family
    Love you lots
    Nina

    • hi cutes- miss you too you doll. I will pass on the message to my sis- we will be spending some quality time together soon as we head back out to CA to visit our bro- love and hugs and I need to see you soon too!
      Cindy

  6. My mother is Polish and my family has been celebrating the Opletek tradition my entire life. I’m so glad you shared this story.

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