When the first star appears in the sky, the Christmas tree is lit and the dinner begins. The Christmas Eve meal starts with a prayer, the sharing of the blessed oplatek (a bread wafer which is similar to that used during Holy Communion in the Roman Catholic Church), and exchanging wishes. Usually, the male head of the household takes the wafer and turns to his wife, extending it toward her. He wishes her good health and success in the upcoming year, and, if there have been any misunderstandings, he asks her for forgiveness and for the new year to be a better one. The wife then thanks him and breaks off half of the wafer and eats a piece of it. Next, she offers the wafer to her husband, expressing similar wishes. He breaks the wafer and eats it. This ceremony is repeated with each person present, beginning with the oldest and ending with the youngest.
After the breaking of the wafer and an the exchanging of wishes, everyone sits down at the dinner table. The table is covered with a white tablecloth and there is one additional place set for an unexpected guest who, especially that night, should not be turned away. This is to remind us that St. Joseph and Mary were also looking for shelter. Until the first star appears, Wigilia is a day of fasting. Although there are plenty of dishes on the table, this is a traditionally meatless dinner.
Time after dinner is devoted to different activities. Stories are told and carols are sung. These activities continue until it is time to attend midnight Mass. In Polish it is called Pasterka, "the Mass of the Shepherds" to commemorate the shepherds who were the first to greet the newborn baby Jesus.
CHRISTMAS EVE SUPPER
After sunset, the youngest family member is sent to watch for the first star of Christmas Eve. Having sighted it, the child announces that the star has appeared, then, the candles are lit. The head of the household continues.
HOST: May the name of God be praised.
ALL: For ever and ever. Amen.
HOST: On this years shortest of days and longest of nights, a star appears shining in the darkness. For on this night, "the Word was made flesh . "
ALL: And Dwelt among us!
HOST: God is born, proclaims the majestic Christmas carol. Jesus, Son of God, is born of Mary. For this night, "The Word was made flesh . . ."
ALL: And dwelt among us!
HOST: The star has appeared announcing His birth. The star of Bethlehem guides the Three Wise men in their search for the new-born King. For this night, "the Word was made flesh . "
ALL: And dwelt among us!
HOST: This night a Child is born to us, a Son is given to us. His name is wonderful, Counselor, eternal Father, Prince of peace. "The Word was made flesh . . ."
ALL: And dwelt among us!
HOST: Throughout the ages on this eve, as the first star appeared, our ancestors throughout the world celebrated with joy this Christmas Eve as we do today. "For the Word was made flesh.."
ALL: And dwelt among us!"
HOST: Our forefathers celebrated this evening with the breaking of the bread, the Christmas Oplatek. Following their example we share in this sacred heritage. 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. Let us now listen to the story of His Birth as recounted by St. Luke: (Reader - usually the eldest son - presents the Gospel of the Midnight Mass)
Sequel of the holy Gospel according to Luke.
At that time, there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that the whole world should be enrolled. This enrolling was first made by Cyrinus, the governor of Syria. and all went to be enrolled, everyone into his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; because he was of the house and family of David, to be enrolled with Mary, his espoused wife, who was with child. And it came to pass, that when they were there, her days were accomplished that she should be delivered. And she brought forth her first-born Son, and wrapt him up in swaddling clothes, and laid Him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn. And there were in the same country Shepherds watching and keeping the night watches over their flock; and behold an Angel of the Lord stood by them, and the brightness of God shone round about them, and they feared with a great fear. And the Angel said to them: Fear not: for behold I bring you good tidings of great joy, that shall be to all the people: for this day is born to you a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord, in the city of David. And this shall be a sign unto you: You shall find the Infant wrapped in swaddling clothes, and laid in a manger. And suddenly there was with the Angel a multitude of the heavenly army, praising God and saying:: Glory to God in the highest; and on earth peace to men of good will.
HOST: At this feast, we share the joy of heaven. We rejoice with the Holy Family of Bethlehem. Having sighted the first star, we gather at this table to hear glad tidings of comfort and joy. Summoned to the festival we break bread and share the holy wafer. The breaking of this bread brings with it a promise of reconciliation and peace. As we share it with each other, we are bound to forgive each other all the wrongs we have done in the past, and never return to them. Through forgiveness the Lord is born in our family, as Bethlehem, "the house of bread," happens once again among us. For this reason the holy wafer is called the "bread of love". Glory to God in Highest Heaven! And . .
ALL: Peace to His people on earth.
Before the wafer is passed, the head of the household traditionally extends Christmas wishes and remembers those who are not able to be present. All then share the wafer - exchanging greetings and joyful wishes for the coming year. MERRY CHRISTMAS!!