Christmas reflection by Thaddeus M. Baklinski
COMBERMERE, Ontario, December 23, 2008 (LifeSiteNews.com) – My wife Theresa remarked on Monday of this week that the days are starting to get longer – Monday had about one more minute of daylight than Sunday did. The return of Light is so important not only to those of us experiencing the dark, cold days of Canadian winter, but also to those who yearn for a return of the Light of faith and reason to the cultures in which we live.
One of the ways that we try to keep this Light shining in our home and family is by maintaining and passing down the traditions of our ancestors to our children.
Theresa and I are both of Polish heritage and received a grounding in faith and Polish cultural customs from our parents, who came to Canada in the first half of the twentieth century, as so many others, to escape religious suppression, political tyranny, and economic collapse.
Light plays a central role in most of the traditional things we do at Christmas. Apart from the usual Lights on the Christmas tree and the Lights decorating the outside of our home, we have a few very special Lights.
Candles in our windows offer a special welcome to any stranger who happens by our door – the tradition says a stranger may be Christ hidden in the guise of a traveler in need of warmth and cheer. Hence, in the Polish tradition, an extra place is always set at the table to show the stranger he was expected and welcome.
Living as we do on a usually quiet country highway, we hang a lantern on our mailbox at the highway to extend the offer of welcome as far as possible.
The Poles begin the celebration of Christ’s birth on Christmas Eve with what’s known as the Vigil Supper or Wigilia, which consists of twelve traditional meatless courses, including a rich, deep crimson beet soup (known as barszcz), several kinds of fish and seafood, mushrooms, fried sauerkraut (called kapusta) and perogies with a variety of fillings.
This feast begins with the search for a Light, the children expectantly waiting for dusk to fall and the first star to appear in the sky. With the appearance of this heavenly Light the candles on the table are lit and our family gathers round, but before sitting down, all members of the household break and share the traditional Christmas Wafer, called Oplatek, a thin square of unleavened bread.
With the Light of the candles, and of expectant joy, shining in my family’s eyes, I explain again, as at every Christmas, the significance of what we’re doing: “Our forefathers celebrated this evening with the breaking of the bread, the Christmas Oplatek. Following their example we share in this sacred heritage. Having sighted the first star, we gather at this table to hear glad tidings of comfort and joy. In the breaking of this bread and sharing of this meal, Jesus is born for us this evening, around this table, under our roof, in our hearts.”
I then bless the wafer and, going to each person, invite them to break off a piece while offering them wishes for an abundance of God’s blessings, good health and happiness. Following this, everyone exchanges joyful wishes and blessings with each other. This is the beginning of our Christmas celebration.
I seldom get through all of this without getting a catch in my throat, because for me the deepest significance of the Light we are gathering around and celebrating: the tree, the candles, the return of light to the world after the winter solstice, the light glimmering in my children’s and grandchildren’s eyes, is the profound up-welling of Joy that the Light manifests in our hearts.
These few Light-filled traditions are something that give my children not only a sense of where and from whom they come, which helps them understand who they are, but most importantly that Christ, the Light of the world, newly born in Bethlehem, will, if they keep their eyes and lives directed toward Him, as children and Wise Men searching for the First Star, not only dispel the darkness, but fill them with Peace and Joy.
So to all LifeSiteNews readers who have born the burden of the year, and worked and prayed for Life, Family and the return of Light, I wish you an abundance of the Hope, Peace and Joy that Christ offers us, and a Very Merry Christmas!