St. Lucy Day (she who
brought “light” to the long winter nights) is celebrated on December 13. On
the day after her feast the baking of “oblatky” or “oplatky” – the
traditional wafers served at Christmas Eve supper (Vilija) – began. Oblatka
comes from the Latin word oblata, which means offering. Oplatky is the
unleavened wafers imprinted with the scene of the holy birth. The wafer
symbolizes the host that at mass will become Christ’s body.
In Slovakia, the week was
filled with practical preparation for Christmas. A local teacher’s role was to
assure that every household had wafers on its Christmas table. It was sometimes
included in his contract. Teachers willingly took this role, eager to contribute
to creating a Christmas atmosphere.
Preparation varies. The
teacher usually sent children to visit houses and sing a song, which he taught
them, to get grain for baking. Landlords used to give them not only wheat but
also legumes, smoked meat and eggs. The teacher took care that the grain arrived
at the mill and back on time. If there was a community mill, the miller provided
the flour; sometimes the teacher provided the flour. He also bought other
necessities except for milk, butter and eggs. Women brought these to the school
as soon as they found out that wafers were going to be made. Young men took care
of the wood and assisted in baking the wafers since working with the baking
irons was not an easy task, and because baking usually lasted until late at
night when pupils were too tired to help.
Sometimes the baking lasted
almost until Christmas, depending on the size of the village. A few days before
Christmas, school children distributed them in baskets to each house. Each
family got 15 to 20 water wafers, about five honey wafers and usually a few
rolls. Larger families, of course, got more. Before the distribution the teacher
made sure the children knew the wish by heart and they could begin.
wish you for this feast
have as much milk as you have water
full jars of cream, butter like a flower.
me a coin right now.”
After the children
distributed the wafers a landlord filled their basket with foodstuffs, gave them
a small coin and a bigger coin for the teacher. Preparation and distribution of
wafers had a lasting place in the traditional life of a village.
In other villages, each
family contributed a measure of flour for the baking of the oplatky for the
entire village. The oplatky were
received from the priest or minister well beforehand so that, in the event of
snowbound conditions, which were common in the mountainous regions, this symbol
of Christ and the Eucharist might serve as their Christmas Eve spiritual
In some homes at the Vilija supper,
the father serves the wafer to each family member starting with the wife. He
asks her forgiveness for any hurt he may have caused and invites reconciliation
with a kiss. He proceeds to the rest of the family expressing his love and
wishes for their well-being. The family often shares their oplatky with one
another in the same manner. In some households the Father ceremoniously drizzled
the honey in the form of a cross and circle on each oplatka as he pronounces his
blessing for the season, the Vinš.
Oplatki can be order from:
570-278-5606, E-Mail email@example.com
or mail Jankola Library, Villa Sacred Heart, Danville PA 17821.
Excerpts for this feature were taken for Slovak Folk Customs and Traditions, and The Joy of a Slovak Christmas.