22 December 2014

Tales of Christmas Past

Prior to my grandfather’s death in 1955, my family would gather at my grandparents, Stanley and Mary Szostek (nee Inda), home at Springfield in Chicago.  It was here we would celebrate Christmas. The tree would have been lovingly trimmed by my dziadek (grandfather in Polish).   The picture below was taken on my first Christmas at dziadek and grandma's home.
The wonderful smells of Holiday cooking and baking would fill the air.  All of my maternal uncles, aunts and cousins would arrive, bundled up on this cold Chicago day.  The atmosphere would be warm with the joy of another joyous Holiday together.  After some talk, we would all sit down at the table and share the opłatki.  

Opłatki is the first food of the Christmas vigil.  It is a wafer normally rectangular in shape.  The wafer is similar in texture, thickness and taste to a Communion Wafer.  They are about 4” by 6”.  Each has an different embossed picture on it, such as the Nativity or the Three Kings.  The opłatki is normally blessed by a Priest prior to bringing it home.
 
At the Christmas dinner, the eldest person offers the opłatki to the next oldest, wishing them good health and the fulfillment of their heart’s desires.  If there is any strain between these two people, forgiveness is also asked for now.  At the conclusion of the eldest person’s wishes, the next oldest person expresses their thanks and breaks off a corner of the opłatki. The eldest person then repeats this offering with each individual at the table in the same manner.  After the eldest has shared the opłatki and wished with the youngest person, the second eldest repeats the process starting with the eldest and ending with the youngest.  This continues, each having their turn, until the youngest has offered wishes and shares the opłatki with everyone present in the same manner.  Everyone has an opportunity to say a few words and share wishes since each person in turn offers the opłatki to the others present.   
After everyone shares the opłatki, the dinner begins.  Wine was served, usually a sweet one by Mogen David.  The first course was homemade chicken soup with kluski noodles.  After that was finished the rest of the meal would be placed one the table.  Food was shared family style.  It was passed on huge platters or in large bowls.  Included would be chicken, beef, polish sausage with sauerkraut, mashed potatoes and gravy, browned potatoes, at least two vegetables a selection of breads. We would eat and eat and then eat some more!  Seconds, thirds and sometimes fourths!  Do not forget the dessert!  Pies, cookies and ice cream would be following soon.  It was a wonder anyone could rise from the table!
After the wonderful dinner was finished, everyone moved into the living room where the Christmas tree was shining brightly.  Of course, this was the time my cousins and I were waiting for, time to open the presents!  They were all so beautifully wrapped!  My Aunt Phyllis always had the prettiest bows on the packages her family gave to others.  She would use yards and yards of curling ribbon that was done in a big poof of curls!  Someone was usually chosen as the "mailman", the one who pulled the present out from under the tree and delivered it to the proper person.
  

Afterwards my dziadek would bring play his concertina and we would sing Christmas carols.  (Below is a picture of my dziadek's concertina)
We would visit with each other for a time then head home with bellies stuffed with food, arms laden with gifts and memories to carry with us throughout our lives.