Most of us trace our roots back to a combination of European immigrants who came to America in pursuit of a better, freer life. Over the years, these immigrants melded their European Christmas traditions with new customs that they developed in the New World. Whether your ancestors are English, Irish, German, Swedish, or Scottish, your family has its own Christmas traditions. Consider practicing one or two of these customs at your house this year. You’ll instill an appreciation for the spirituality of the American settlers in the young people in your family.
My mother’s side is Polish-American and every Christmas Eve, my 100% Polish grandfather led us in a Polish Christmas tradition. He is now deceased, but my grandmother and mother carry on his tradition. We break and share “Oplatki” or “Christmas Wafers,” which are thin, tasteless rectangular white wafers engraved with an image of faith, such as the infant Jesus; an angel; or the Star of David.
Breaking bread is a symbol of communion, peace and forgiveness. The Oplatki ceremony involves breaking and sharing the wafers; praying; reading the Gospel; and giving each person a turn to voice thanks and good wishes toward their fellow dinner guests. Yellow and pink-colored Oplatki wafers are shared with the family pets or animals, such as dogs, cats and horses.
String Up Christmas Lights
We take Christmas lights for granted today and don’t necessarily see them as a sign of “faith,” but lights have a strong American and religious heritage. Thomas Edison invented the lightbulb; he also invented the first “string” of Christmas light bulbs in the late 1800s, which he strung around his Menlo Park lab as a way to show off his invention during the Christmas season. By 1900, Christmas lights were available, but only to the wealthy because one string cost the equivalent of $300 in today’s money. In a tribute to free enterprise, mass production made Christmas lights affordable to the middle class.
A string of Christmas lights also hails to the faith and hope of early Christians who used the light of fire as a sign of their belief during the dark and gloomy winter months. Candles in Christmas trees; Yule logs; and Advent candles are examples of the early Christians’ “Christmas lights.” Capitalism, which I’ve shown glorifies God, has allowed us to produce fire-safe lights for everyone—from the poorest to the richest—to brighten their homes and yards as a sign of their hope and faith.
Jingle bells, jingle bells. Dashing over amber waves of grain!