My most memorable Christmas gift isn’t really a gift–at least not in the traditional sense. It wasn’t something wrapped in paper and placed under a tree. Rather, it was an experience.
My mother’s side of the family is Polish-Catholic–I can trace that ancestry all the way back to the Motherland. And what tradition we experienced growing up stemmed from that heritage. In Polish-Catholic culture, Christmas Eve (Wigilia) reigns supreme amongst holidays, featuring a cherished celebration steeped in traditions both religious and familial. A part of that celebration usually involves the sharing of oplatek, which is a Christmas wafer much like styrofoam in texture and appearance–if that styrofoam were beaten and rolled out as thin as possible. Except, of course, it’s edible (though probably about as tasteless as styrofoam). It’s embossed with Christmas images, like the nativity scene. But what it is isn’t really important–it’s about what you do with it.
I can remember our dining room, decked out in Christmas decor. The table featured an admirable spread: Grandmother’s silver, which we’d diligently polished the day before, displayed a mouth-watering feast over which we’d slaved all day. Christmas tunes drifted in from the living room, Aretha Franklin belting out, “Go Tell It On The Mountain!” One seat at the table was set for the “unexpected visitor,” another Polish-Catholic tradition–although my mother’s translation of this custom reserved the seat for the spirit of my dead grandmother. Some hay peeped out from beneath that placemat–which I am pretty sure should symbolize the manger in which Christ was born–but which, again, somehow got translated into representing my dead grandmother. That’s sort of how tradition went for us when it showed up–always a little blurred by memories made murky with Vodka–symbolism twisted by intoxication…
Read the rest plus my poem “Aftermath” in Wrapped Up in Ribbon: Stories and Poems of the Christmas Season.
Come to the online release party on Facebook tomorrow for the code to get it FREE.
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