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Opwatki is another name for love

This week, my wonderfully NON-Polish sister-in-law will travel to a Polish deli near her home outside of Chicago in search of kielbasa. She has chosen this deli because her daughter’s band director told her she also would find Opwatki there.

“I know we have to have Opwatki,” she told me proudly when we spoke over the phone about the menu for the Christmas Eve party she is hosting for my family.

For most of the past 12 Christmas Eves while living in Chicago, I hosted this gathering for my family. There was always kielbasa and pierogi and sauerkraut and dumplings. And always there was Opwatki.

In the Polish tradition, the Christmas Eve meal starts with the sharing of the blessed Opwatki, a wafer similar to the communion wafer used by Catholics for the Eucharistic Liturgy.

At our gatherings, the head of each of the families present receives a wafer imprinted with some image of the nativity. A piece of the wafer is broken off and exchanged with each other family member, with a wish for good health and happiness. Once finished with their own families, they move into each other’s family circles, sharing pieces of wafer and greetings with the aunts, uncles and cousins of their lives.

You might call this a Polish version of the handshake of peace. I call it love … the kind of love that only God provides … a moment of communion when all that divides us, when all that troubles us is forgotten and exchanged for a promise of peace on Earth, good will toward all.

What will your family exchange this Christmas?

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Sister Dawn Tomaszewski

Sister Dawn Tomaszewski was elected General Superior of the Sisters of Providence in 2016. She has been a Sister of Providence since 1975. Previously she ministered as a teacher, as communication and development director for the sisters and their ministries and as a member of elected leadership on the general council of the Sisters of Providence.

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