Happy Hunky New Year’s Eve

I’m reminded of the old adage, “Hindsight Is 20-20” as the new decade and new year approaches. I suppose one of the reasons is rather apparent since the New Year will actually be 2020. The less obvious reflection however, is that the beliefs and traditions of our culture and of our family helped to build the person we have each become. Certainly eating certain foods or celebrating an important occasion in a long-held traditional way didn’t magically change or enhance the course of our lives. However, embracing our roots, learning about our culture, learning the importance of strong family units and incorporating their values HAS made a difference in many lives.

My immediate family as well as my entire extended family of grandparents, aunts, uncles andNYE cousins would gather on New Years Eve to celebrate the arrival of the new year. When I was very young, the party would be a mixture of family members from both my mother’s and father’s sides. It was held at our house, and would include the obligatory “shots and beer” for my uncles and the very proper “whisky sours’ for my aunts. We kids would enjoy either our Mission Grape or Mission Orange, or our choice of any Regent pop flavor we would like.

Finger food would be set out on our dining room table during the early evening and would include beet-pickled eggs; vegetable trays including radishes, green onions and olives; cold cuts of chipped ham, cold kielbasa, and jumbo (bologna); rye bread, sandwich rolls, swiss cheese and various condiments. Various homemade baked goods, including nut and poppyseed rolls and cold dough apricot horns would dot the table as well. Amazingly, the food would sit for hours upon hours on the table without any means of refrigeration and yet never cause anyone to get sick.

As the party progressed, the record player would be cranked-up with the Big Band soundpick-yourself-up of Glenn Miller, the romantic strings of Mantovani, or the velvety smooth voice of Nat King Cole or Perry Como. In what had to be the tiniest dance floor ever, our living room, the adults would manage to do their best Fred and Ginger impression and dance the year away as if no one was watching. I remember sitting on the steps to our second floor and just watching the grow-ups having the best of times. Inevitably, one of my aunts would glace at the stairs and see me sitting there. Then, in her best whiskey sour enhanced voice, she would invite me to dance with her. I of course, being the brave little kid I was, would run like hell up the steps and hide in my room!

As the midnight hour approached, I remember that everyone would take part in a custom that must have had its roots in the Croatian culture. Before the strike of midnight, everyone would be sure that they had placed a coin in their right shoe. This would supposedly bring good luck and wealth to each person. I’ve come to realize that wealth wasn’t necessarily measured financially, but perhaps more so as the abundance of our family’s love and caring for one another. To this day, I still try to remember to place that coin in my shoe on New Year’s Eve, using the dime my mother placed in her shoe on her wedding day.

After the countdown to the new year, the hugs, the kisses, the shots, and the ladies enjoying a glass of Cook’s Champagne, dinner was served. Any decent hunky worth their salt, knew that it was a compulsory tradition to begin the new year with a meal of pork and sauerkraut. The meal had been slowly simmering during the festivities, and would be served up for each party-goer to enjoy. The flavor would be enhanced with the addition of kielbasa and a sprinkling of red kidney beans in the kraut. Large chunks of rye bread with slabs of butter completed the meal. Everyone inhaled the food as if would bring all of the luck they would need for the new year. In reality, it served the dual purpose of helping to mitigate the effects of partying hearty before they hit the road.

New Year’s Eve celebrations took a dramatic turn for my family as 1965 turned into 1966. In November of 1965, my mother suffered a major heart attack that immediately claimed her life. Mom was 42, I was 13 at the time, and my brother Steve, 16. Although my dad did his best to provide a happy holiday for us that year, Mom’s death had devastated us and joyfulness as sadly missing during the holidays of 1965. There weren’t any New Year’s celebrations that year, not only for my immediate family, but likewise for our entire extended families of aunts, uncles and cousins. I remember each and every sibling of my mother and father visiting our home, along with their entire family, each and every day through the Epiphany on January 6th. Although I have tried hard to forget how distressing that holiday season was, I know I’ll never be able to.

After my mother’s death, my dad was a different guy for many, many years. He smiled and laughed less, he worried more, and he struggled to give my brother and I the best upbringing and guidance he could. He did so well, but it took its toll. It wasn’t until many years later that we finally convinced him to try to enjoy Christmas and New Year’s Eve more. For a few years, he would join his friends at the Croatian Club, or Slovak Club, or the GBU to toast in the New Year, but that soon grew old.

Years later, the family wide New Year’s started up again, this time at the home of one of my dad’s brother and his wife. It became the tradition to celebrate at Uncle Hank and Aunt Clare’s for countless years afterward. My Aunt Clare’s nephew played the guitar with Guy Lombardo and His Royal Canadians, and we would sit and watch him play at the Waldorf Astoria televised party each New Year’s Eve.

I hold all of those special times with my relatives near and dear to my heart. Year by year, fewer and fewer people attended the New Year’s celebration. Sadly, people passed away, moved away, grew-up and began traditions of their own, or just opted for quiet New Year’s Eves at home. But to me, New Year’s will eternally be the memory of my mom and dad dancing in our living room to the sound of Nat King Cole.

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TraditionsWhile I was sharing my memories of New Year’s Eve, perhaps it conjured up some memories of your own. Although many traditions are shared amongst Eastern European Cultures, some are unique to only a few.

I found the following article that addresses the variety of ways New Year’s Eve is celebrated in Eastern Europe. The article was written by Barbara Rolek, and is jam packed with foods and traditions of many Eastern European cultures.

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How Eastern Europeans Celebrate New Year’s

By Barbara Rolek  Updated 10/02/19

New Year Celebration – Vstock / Getty Images

Along with people worldwide, Eastern Europeans welcome in the New Year with revelry and special foods thought to bring good luck, health, and prosperity. Be sure to click on any of the purple links to learn more about the food or the tradition.

Lucky Foods

  • Fish, especially those with silver scales, are thought to symbolize money. Pickled herring is a must for Poles at the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve.
  • Greens, usually cabbage, are associated with money and, thus, thought to bring good fortune. Eating cabbage probably worked its way into New Year lore because it is a late-fall crop and the best way to preserve it for the winter was by turning it into sauerkraut. Brining cabbage typically takes six to eight weeks, and would be perfect to eat around New Year. Sauerkraut‘s long strands also symbolize a long life.
  • Legumes, lentils, and peas also symbolize money as their appearance resembles coins that swell when cooked.
  • Poppy seedsare considered a lucky food in Poland, so you will find them throughout the cuisine and especially on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve.
  • Pork‘s rich fat content symbolizes wealth and prosperity. Pork is also considered a symbol of progress because pigs root forward. Spit-roasted pig is common, as is roast pork loin, sausages and more. The tradition of eating pork probably has more to do with slaughter times than ensuring good fortune.
  • Ring-shaped foods like cookies, doughnuts, and bagelssymbolize the year coming full circle and represent eternity.

What Not to Eat

Lobster and crab are considered bad luck because they move backward and could lead to setbacks. Chicken is also a no-no because they scratch backward, and eating any winged fowl is disadvised because this could portend one’s good luck flying away.

Bulgarian New Year Traditions

Štastliva (or Chestita) Nova Godina—Happy New Year in Bulgarian

In Bulgaria, New Year celebrations are week-long affairs featuring processions, musical festivals, carnivals, and sporting events. New Year’s Eve is spent visiting friends, making merry, eating lucky foods and making toasts with rakia (grape brandy) and other potent potables.

New Year’s Day is St. Basil’s feast day or vassilyovden when the health-wishing custom of survaki (also known as sourvakari) is observed. Twigs or small branches of the cornel (dogwood) tree, called survaknitsa (also known as sourvachka), are decorated with brightly colored papers. Children brandish their parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles with these twigs, wishing them well for the new year. In return, the children are rewarded with nuts, candies, and coins. Alternatively, the men of the village go from house to house to do the blessing.

New Year is also celebrated by wearing new clothes—out with the old and in with the new. New Year’s Day dinner is a lavish affair, as the richer the spread, the more fruitful the coming year will be. A ritual bread is decorated with religious symbols or vines and hives made of bread dough, and a special place is saved for a cheese banitza (also spelled banitsa) with baked-in cornel (dogwood) buds symbolizing home, family and livestock, and promising good health for the coming year.

In western Bulgaria, the central Balkans and in some regions along the Danube River, the custom of ladouvane (also known as koumichene) is observed on New Year’s Eve by women wishing to get married. In the rest of the country, it is celebrated on Midsummer Day. The maidens of the village drop symbols of fertility—rings tied with red string to a spray of fresh ivy or basil, oats and barley—into a kettle full of spring water on Dec. 30. The kettle is left overnight in the open, under the stars and, on New Year’s Eve, following a ritual dance around it, the girls’ fortunes are told.

For Orthodox Christian Bulgarians, who follow the Julian calendar, New Year’s Eve and Day are celebrated Jan. 13-14.

Croatian New Year Traditions

Sretna Nova Godina—Happy New Year in Croatian

In Croatia, New Year’s Eve is celebrated with parties in houses, hotels, discos and public squares. Fireworks on the stroke of midnight are common in the larger cities of Dubrovnik, Hvar, and Split. Lucky foods eaten include sarma, spit-roasted pig (pecenka), and fish and seafood for those living along the Dalmatian coast. Cevapciciajvarburek, coldcut trays, strudelsnut rolls, and so much more are also eaten on New Year’s Day, according to the family’s preferences.

Czech New Year Traditions

Stastny Novy Rok—Happy New Year in Czech

As in Poland, New Year’s Eve is known as St. Sylvester’s Day because it is the saint’s feast day. And, since Prague was his place of birth, the tie is even stronger in The Czech Republic.

New Year’s Eve is party time with various chlebíčky (open-faced sandwiches), nuts, brambůrky (homemade potato chips) and other snacks. Midnight is celebrated by drinking šampaňské (champagne) or some other local sparkling wine. Some Czechs eat vepřový ovar (boiled pork head) with se strouhaným křenem a jablky (grated horseradish and apples) at midnight.

On New Year’s Day, cočka (lentils), a symbol of money, are eaten along with pork and leftover vánoční cukrový.

Hungarian New Year Traditions

Boldog új Evet—Happy New Year in Hungarian

After being carried around the village, effigies of Jack Straw, a scapegoat representing the evils and misfortunes of the past year, are burned on Szilveszter or New Year’s Eve. In big cities, there are public celebrations and parties where young and old dance away the night. There is also a New Year’s ball and concert at the Hungarian State Opera House in Budapest. Street vendors sell masks and noisemakers for the children.

On New Year’s Day, roast suckling pig and lencse fõzelék (lentil soup) are served—both considered lucky foods. While other cultures eat fish because the silver scales are reminiscent of money, eating fish in Hungary is considered unlucky because they will swim away with one’s good fortune.

Lithuanian New Year Traditions

Laimingų Naujųjų Metų — Happy New Year in Lithuanian. In some regions of Lithuania, New Year’s Eve is known as “little Christmas Eve,” and foods similar to those served for Christmas Eve are eaten, except the dishes contain meat. People stay up until midnight because sleeping through the beginning of the new year will bring bad luck. An important part of New Year’s Eve and Day is the telling of fortunes and making predictions.

Polish New Year Traditions

Szczesliwego Nowego Roku—Happy New Year in Polish
New Year’s Eve is known as Sylwester because it falls on the feast day of St. Sylvester. Poles party hearty with good food and drink.

New Year’s Day festivities might include a hayride into the forest where a bonfire is set and sausages, bigos and wodka are enjoyed. Bakers sell bread and rolls in the shape of rabbits, sheep, geese, and cows to assure wealth and good luck for the coming year. Round or ring-shaped bread are also popular because they symbolize life coming full circle and eternity, and pączki are served for dessert. Sylwester begins Carnival—a period of balls and parties before Lent begins.

Romanian New Year Traditions

Un An Nou Fericit (or La Mulţi Ani)—Happy New Year in Romanian
In Romania, lucky foods include sarmale (cabbage rolls) and mititei (a free-formed sausage). The New Year dinner is lavish because it is believed if the meal is rich, so will be the new year. Palinca (plum brandy) is a traditional beverage. Fortune telling is an important part of Romanian New Year customs.

Russian New Year Traditions

S Novim Godom—Happy New Year in Russian
Russian Orthodox Christians who follow the Julian calendar celebrate New Year’s Eve and Day Jan. 13-14. But for those who abide by the government’s New Year based on the Gregorian calendar, it is celebrated Dec. 31-Jan. 1.

Public celebrations, fireworks, drinking vodka and champagne, partying in clubs or in private homes with an abundance of zakuski or “little bites” (appetizers) is traditional.

On New Year’s Day, a sumptuous meal of roast duck, caviarsalad olivier, fish in aspic, mushrooms in creamnut cookies, New Year Clock Cake, and sbiten, a hot, non-alcoholic or alcoholic spiced drink, are consumed.

Serbian New Year Traditions

Srecna Nova Godina—Happy New Year in Serbian

Most Serbians are Orthodox Christians who celebrate New Year’s Eve and Day on Jan. 13-14, according to the Julian calendar. There is an abundance of food and drink, including sarma, spit-roasted pig, tortesnut rollsstrudels, and desserts galore. Rakija, a powerful drink of grape brandy, sometimes blended with whiskey and spices, is traditional at this time of year.

Christmas trees are decorated and presents given on New Year’s Day rather than Christmas Day. At midnight on New Year’s Eve, Deda Mraz (Grandpa Frost) visits houses and leaves presents under the tree.

Slovak New Year Traditions

Štastný Nový Rok—Happy New Year in Slovak

New Year’s Eve in Slovakia is celebrated with street and home parties. New Year’s Day dinner might include roast gooseklobása and jaternica sausages. Strudels with nut or poppy seed fillings are popular desserts. Read more about Slovak festivals here

Slovenian New Year Traditions

Srečno Novo Leto—Happy New Year in Slovenian

Outdoor parties with live bands are typical in the larger cities. Feasting is on pork and many rich desserts like Prekmurska Gibanica or potica on New Year’s Day.

Ukrainian New Year Tradition

Z Novym Rokom—Happy New Year in Ukrainian

Feasting on fish, pork, legumes, holubtsi (cabbage rolls), pampushki (stuffed and fried potato ball), cakes and other confections are a big part of Ukrainian New Year’s Eve and Day festivities. Ukrainians, who follow the Julian calendar, celebrate on Jan. 13-14 (although, as in Russia, the national New Year is technically Jan. 1).

Families gather to reflect on the past year, make toasts and predictions about the coming year, and presents are exchanged. Grandfather Frost and his granddaughter, the Snow Maiden, pay a visit.

About the Author:

Barbara Rolek is a former writer for The Spruce who contributed hundreds of articles and recipes for more than eight years. For the past 25 years, she has been a food editor, food writer, and restaurant critic for daily newspapers and magazines including the Chicago Tribune and The New York Times. Barbara worked as an executive chef and pastry chef for more than 15 years at fine-dining establishments and the commissary of a grocery store chain where she instituted the home-meal replacement program.

In addition to her writing, Barbara shares her love of cooking with students at The Cooking Academy of Chicago, Ivy Tech State College and mentoring the Careers through Culinary Arts Program at Corliss High School in Chicago. Her teaching philosophy is to demystify culinary concepts with streamlined techniques and a user-friendly approach to cooking.

Barbara is a graduate of Chicago’s Washburne Culinary Institute, one of the oldest cooking schools in the nation, where she won a scholarship from the Anheuser-Busch company and distinguished herself with outstanding performance as a student.

 

 

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VILIJA – Slovak Christmas Feast

My mother was Croatian, my father was Slovak. As a result, I was immersed in two different Eastern European cultures, each with their own set of traditions. It seems that these traditions came to the forefront during the holiday season.

As a Slovak, I was fortunate to be able experience one of the most beloved Christmas traditions, the Vilija (pronounced vă – lē´ -yă.) Vilija is the traditional Christmas eve gathering and dinner that is rich with traditional foods, religious symbolism and family.

The vilija continues to this day in my family, and although the venue may have changed, the traditions and symbolism remains intact. What an incredible testimony and homage to the parents, grandparents and hunky culture that helped to set our moral compass.

As part of this posting, I have included a 2005 article from the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review by Karin Welzel. The author does an outstanding job of explaining the tradition, the content and the meaning behind the celebration. Rather than be redundant, allow me to give you my impressions and memories of the event as I experienced it in the 50’s.

The vilija always took place at my Uncle Gary and Aunt Helen’s home in West Mifflin. Just like a scene from “A Big Fat Greek Wedding,” I remember entering their house and immediately getting drawn into the crowd of family that were already preparing the feast.

Their home was always decked out with Christmas decorations galore and every light in the house seemed to be burning. Usually, by Christmas eve in Western Pennsylvania, the weather had usually taken a definite turn and it was normally either snowing or on the verge of doing so. For that reason, whenever I entered their home, it felt so toasty warm compared to the outdoors. Their windows were usually steamed up from all of the cooking that was occurring and from the cranked-up thermostat (Grandma was always cold you know). And then there were the smells! The freshly cut Christmas tree scent hit me as soon as I entered the house. (It must have been the magic aspirins!) Combined with the smell of fresh pine was the amazing aroma emanating from the kitchen and dining room.

All of my aunts were buzzing around a rather cramped kitchen preparing all of the traditional foods. Somehow, all of the foods which were part of our every day lives growing up as a hunky smelled so much better on Christmas Eve!  Stuffed cabbages, pirogies, kielbasa and poppy seed rolls smelled like food for the gods! I was a very picky eater in those days, but somehow, a became a modern day foodie during the vilija.

My uncles had the responsibility of creating a dining surface large enough to accommodate our ever growing family. Since my dad was one of 8 children, the number of people attending was quite large. There was no such thing as a “kids table” in those days, so the eating surface had to accommodate approximately 25 people PLUS the feast itself. The table was usually assembled using two tables which supported large sheets of plywood. It was at least 16 feet long, extended from the dining room into the living room and was always covered with crisp white linens. There were never any decorations on the table, only food, lots and lots of food! The chairs that surrounded the table were a potpourri of chairs from around the house, the out-of-town neighbors and often times from St. Michael’s Church hall. Your seat may not have matched with the neighboring chair, but every family member had their place.

The timing of the dinner was very strategic. It was essential that we ate and were finished with dinner by 6 p.m. In those days, it was important that we allowed for the correct about of time before receiving communion at midnight mass. The Roman Catholic Church has very specific rules governing communion.

Grandpa would always begin the vilija with a blessing. This would be followed by the passing of oplatky (non-blessed communion bread). We would pass a large square piece of oplatky and each person would break a small piece off to be consumed in unison at the end of Grandpa’s blessing. I remember tha the oplatky would always come to the table in an envelop that was decorated with a colorful representation of the birth of Christ.

Once we had taken our oplatky, the feast began. With amazing speed and dexterity, plates and bowls of food were passed around the table and plates were loaded up to the max. Jokes, teasing, memories, and plans for the holidays were just some of the discussions that occurred during the meal. My dad would always be yelled at by my mom and my Aunt Helen for something he might have said to instigate some trouble, but that was expected, and welcome. After the main courses were completed, out came platters and platters of goodies. Poppyseed, apricots and walnuts seemed to be part of every creation. Each would probably be capable of clogging any artery in the room, but somehow, it either didn’t happen or didn’t matter in those days. Naivety was bliss in those days.

Once the dinner was over, my aunts would begin clean-up. Sexist or not, that was the way it was in those days. The men would gather and have some celebratory “shots” and beers, the kids would share their wish lists with each other and the ladies would clean-up the remnants of the feast. There seemed to be an unspoken exception to the communion rule in our family that shots and beers didn’t count when it came to abstaining before communion. Go figure.

After everything was in order, each family departed to get ready for midnight mass at their own parish church. Fully stuffed and raring to go, the remainder of the Christmas Eve activities still laid ahead.

More later………

 

Celebrate Slovak Style

By Karin Welzel
TRIBUNE-REVIEW
Sunday, December 11, 2005

From the straw scattered under the dining table to the honey that is spread onto thin oplatky to share among diners, the Slovak Christmas Eve meal — called the Vilija table — abounds with religious symbolism.

Christmas Eve is the most awaited day of the Christmas holiday season, according to Albina and Joseph Senko of Mt. Lebanon, members of Western Pennsylvania’s Slovak community.

“The big day is Christmas Eve rather than Christmas Day,” says Albina Senko, a native of Spis in Slovakia. She is a director of the Western Pennsylvania Slovak Cultural Association, founded by her husband in 1997.

A certified public accountant with McKeever Varga & Senko and a certified financial planner, Joseph Senko also is honorary consul to the Slovak Republic.

The Senkos continue to observe the customs and traditions of their ancestry — Joseph Senko was born in Pittsburgh to Slovakian immigrants — and have made it a personal mission to educate Slovak-Americans and the general public about their culture. They are Roman Catholic, as are most of the inhabitants, but they say Byzantine and Orthodox Rite worshipers might follow similar traditions. Slovakia features a wide variety of dialects and customs, varying from region to region, village to village, family to family.

Albina Senko has her home decorated Slovak-style, including a table-size tree festooned with edible ornaments, such as whole walnuts and wrapped candy. There are intricate ornaments made from straw. On larger trees many years ago, family members used apples, paper roses and candles for decorations, too. The top of the tree often was a star made from straw.

Slovak cooks are busy on Christmas Eve, Albina Senko says. Sauerkraut-mushroom or pea soup, bobalky (sweet dough dumplings) and a variety of fish are a must, as well as meatless pirohy, to maintain the fast observed by the faithful during Advent, which begins the fourth Sunday before Christmas.

In anticipation of the celebration, hay or straw is placed under the tablecloth or under the table — or both places — to symbolize the poverty of Christ in a humble manger. Some families place straw in the center of the Advent candle wreath, Albina Senko says, and a figure of the baby Jesus is placed on top.

The table is covered with a white cloth as a symbol of the swaddling clothes of the Christ child. Another tradition is to set an extra place setting to receive a stranger or in honor of a deceased loved one.

The dinner starts at the sighting of the first star of the evening.

“You tell the youngest child to look for it — it may be that it’s just to keep them occupied, because there is a lot of expectation,” says Albina, adding that there is just as much merriment at her house for Christmas Eve now as when her six children were small. She has grandchildren who are excited about the lights, the dinner and gifts.

After the house and table are blessed using a pine bough and holy water, a mulled red wine steeped with cinnamon sticks or herbs and honey is served to diners. Albina Senko sweetens her wine with cranberry juice, cinnamon-sugar and a dash of nutmeg.

The ceremony then focuses on a waferlike “bread” called oplatky (altar bread) that is broken, dipped in honey and distributed to each family member, starting with the husband to his wife. The head of the household dips his thumb in honey and makes the sign of the cross on the foreheads of each member of the household so they will be reminded to keep Christ foremost in their thoughts and praying that harmony will sweeten their lives.

Part of this ceremony focuses on daughters who are eligible for marriage.

Says Albina Senko: “The mother takes honey on her finger, makes a cross on their heads and says, ‘May you be sweet and find a husband soon!’ I did it with my own daughters.”

The next course usually is a tart soup — sauerkraut and mushroom is a popular choice — to represent the bitter destiny of Christ and his suffering for humanity. The family then loads up their plates with bobalky, sweet dough balls baked and mixed with sauerkraut or poppy seeds, symbolic of a plentiful crop. Joseph Senko likes a topping of cottage cheese on them, too.

Platters display a variety of fish that has been floured and quickly sauteed in oil. Because Slovakia is land-locked, carp and trout are common, but Albina Senko likes white fish such as tilapia to grace her table.

Also served are pirohy stuffed with fillings ranging from sauerkraut to cheese and potato; and English peas, which represent a bountiful growing season. Albina Senko folds peas into a mayonnaise-rich potato salad; other families fold peas into hot mashed potatoes. Holubky are cabbage rolls stuffed with ground mushrooms and rice.

The Vilija ends on a sweet note, with nut and poppy seed rolls. Walnuts in the shell and apples also are placed on the table.

None of the foods contain meat, still keeping with the Advent fast.

To wrap up the meal sweetly, Slovaks traditionally serve kolaci, pastry rolls made with sweet dough filled with poppy seeds, dried fruit or nuts.

In recognition of the empty seat at the table, none of the food is removed from the table after the diners are finished. “It’s for the people who couldn’t be there,” Albina Senko says. Before midnight in Slovakia, the animals in the barns are given remnants of the meal — the food from the table is supposed to make them healthy and productive for the coming year.

The Senkos host tours regularly to Slovakia to acquaint Americans with their culture. Albina Senko is a retired travel tour operator, as well as a frequent translator for Slovakian visitors and officials who visit Pittsburgh. It is their wish to improve the lives of their countrymen across the sea and bring Slovakian culture into the homes of the general public.

These traditional dishes of a Slovak Christmas Eve table feature simple, earthy ingredients — plus a bevy of sweets.

Slovak Christmas Eve Soup
(Sauerkraut Soup)

This recipe is adapted from one by Albina Senko, a native Slovakian who lives in Mt. Lebanon. Senko is from Spis in the northeast region of the Carpathian Mountains. Although Slovakia is only about the size of West Virginia , with 5.5 million people, Senko says, there is a lot of variety in customs among the towns and villages.

  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 medium-size yellow onion, chopped
  • 1 cup sliced mushrooms
  • 1 can (16 ounces) sauerkraut, drained but rinsed only lightly
  • Water
  • Paprika, to taste
  • Salt and ground black pepper, to taste
  • 1 vegetable bouillon cube, optional
  • 1 carrot, sliced
  • 1 potato, peeled and diced

Heat the oil in a soup pot. Add the onions and mushrooms and saute until translucent. Add the drained sauerkraut, water to cover the sauerkraut, paprika, salt, black pepper and the bouillon cube, if desired. Let simmer — do not boil — adding more water so you still have broth.

Add the carrot and potato and simmer until tender, for about 15 to 20 minutes, adding more water as needed to keep a souplike consistency.

Bobalky

These bite-sized dumplings can be made from frozen and thawed sweet bread dough to save time. Form portions of the dough into 1-inch rolls, then cut small pieces and bake. The National Slovak Society offers this recipe.

  • 1 package active dry yeast
  • 1/2 cup lukewarm water
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons granulated sugar, divided
  • 6 cups all-purpose flour, more for dusting board
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil, more for greasing baking sheet
  • About 2 cups tap water
  • Boiling water

Dissolve the yeast in the lukewarm water. Add the salt and 1 tablespoon sugar. Let set to proof, for about 10 minutes.

Sift together the flour and remaining 1 tablespoon sugar. Add the yeast mixture, 1/4 cup oil and enough of the 2 cups tap water to make a workable dough. Knead well. Let the dough rise until doubled.

Meanwhile, grease a cookie sheet with oil.

Punch down the dough. Cut off portions of the dough about the size of an egg. Roll each out on a floured board by hand to make rolls about 1 inch in diameter. Cut into 1-inch pieces. Place the pieces on the prepared cookie sheet and let rise for about 20 minutes.

Heat the oven to 350 degrees.

Bake the dumplings for about 10 minutes, or until lightly browned. Let cool, then separate. Place in a colander and pour boiling water over them. Drain quickly to prevent sogginess.

Combine these mixtures with half of the bobalky.

Sauerkraut: Saute 1 small onion, chopped, in 2 tablespoons vegetable oil. Add 1 pound drained sauerkraut. Cook for about 15 minutes. Add to half of the bobalky.

Poppy seeds: Combine 1 cup ground poppy seeds, 2 tablespoons honey and 1/4 cup water. Add to the remaining bobalky.

Oplatky

Commercially prepared Oplatky — the thin wafers coated with honey and then broken at dinner on Christmas Eve and shared among diners — is available from specialty food markets, Slovak and Polish churches and can be purchased through the Internet. Or, you can make your own, using a hot iron form or mold. This recipe is from the National Slovak Society.

  • 5 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 5 teaspoons butter, melted
  • 2 cups cold milk
  • 3 3/4 cups cold water

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl until the mixture has a “pancake” batter texture — smooth and thin. Pour small portions — about a heaping tablespoon — onto a very hot iron form or mold.

Makes 98 oplatky, about 5 inches in size.

The Slovak Christmas Eve dinner does not contain dairy or animal products because the day before the Feast of the Nativity is one of strict fast and spiritual preparation. Here are some foods likely to be served. Their appearance depends upon whether the family is Roman Catholic, Byzantine or Orthodox.

Bandurky — Potatoes, usually boiled, to which onions sauteed in oil have been added. Many families prepare potatoes that are mashed and mixed with peas or prunes.

Bobalky — Small balls of dough prepared with honey and poppy seeds or sauerkraut

Borscht — Beet soup sometimes prepared with cabbage

Fasolji — Prepared brown bean paste spread onto bread

Garlic — Eaten raw on the Christmas bread dipped in honey, intended to keep away the evil spirits

Holuby — Cabbage rolls stuffed with ground mushrooms and rice

Hribi — Mushrooms sauteed with onions in oil

Kapusta i bandurky — Sauerkraut mixed with grated potatoes

Kasa — Rice, sometimes served as a separate dish with zapraska or macanka over it as a gravy

Kvasna Kapusta — Sauerkraut

Loksa (Loksha) — Unraised biscuits

Med — Honey, symbolic of the sweetness of being with the Lord.

Mezanec — An unleavened Christmas bread usually dipped in honey and eaten with a slice of raw garlic

Orehi — Nuts

Pagac — Two layers of dough between which cabbage or potatoes have been spread, then baked

Pirohy (often spelled pierogies) — Dough packets filled with sauerkraut, potatoes, sweet cabbage or prunes

Riba — Fish, usually a white fish baked or smoked, which is symbolic of the Christian faith because Christ was the fisher of men

Sol — Salt

Suseni slivki — Stewed prunes

Zapraska — A thick brown sauce used to prepare various soups and gravies. Among the soups prepared with Zapraska base:

Macanka (Machanka)— A thick mushroom soup

Sauerkraut Soup, with sauerkraut juice added. Usually single ingredients such as green beans, peas, lima beans, mushrooms or butter beans can be added.

Lima Bean Soup

Mushroom-Sauerkraut Soup

Green Split Pea Soup

Caraway Soup

Green Bean Soup

Rice and Mushroom Soup

— National Slovak Society, Canonsburg

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Christmas in Duquesne – 100 Years Ago

Postcard

Merry Christmas everybody! I am so excited and ready to start Christmas Eve 2019 100% prepared for the big event. Our house is decorated, the meals are ready to go, holiday cookies are finished, the house is cleaned, the shopping is done, and all of the gifts are wrapped. It only took my wife and me 41 years to finally get it right!

As you all finish your preparations for all of the celebrations of this holiday season, I hope you can find some quiet moments to scroll through time with me. Technology works wonders for so many things, and this post contains just one example of how it can be used to conjure up images of our hometown that we couldn’t have imagined and definitely didn’t experience.

What you will find on the following pages is the complete December 23, 1919 issue of the Duquesne Times. The twenty pages of this issue paint a picture of an amazing, vibrant city that is alive with industry, commerce and community spirit. I was amazed at the number of businesses that were thriving in Duquesne at the time. It is so difficult to imagine. When you look at some of the advertisements, they make Duquesne look virtually Cosmopolitan! Be sure to zoom in closer to the pages to enjoy every bit. Take time to read some of the Letters to Santa, perhaps written by your grandparents, and check out the prices of some of the items. There are some business names that are vaguely familiar, but so many faded away through the years that few will actually be remembered.

Nonetheless, in the spirit of the season, maybe this would be a good time to grab a hot cup of coffee or a warm hot chocolate and read through this 100 year old issue of the Times. Imagine walking along Grant Avenue or First Streets cobbled stones and peering into the festive windows of merchant after merchant ready to provide a warm welcome and special selections of holiday gifts. It goes without saying that there is a soft snowfall enveloping the city as the hustle and bustle of Christmas ensues and as you enjoy the read.

Enjoy! Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukah, and Happy Kwanza to all of you Duquesne Hunkys at heart!

1919 ty 2

 

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A Golden Christmas Gift

Blue Tree

2019 has been a trying year for this Duquesne Hunky, but I have persevered and I am hoping to be able to able to post on a more consistant basis. As much as  many of you have written that you miss my posts, I assure you that I have missed writing them all the more.

Several months ago, I heard from from a Duquesne High School graduate, Marilyn Stys Colditz, who offered to allow me to borrow her collection of Duquesne High School’s “The Echo” monthly school newpapers. Until now, they have sat patiently waiting for their re-introduction to the good people of Duquesne. So what better time that Christmas to post a 50th Anniversary publication of The Echo – December 1969! Enjoy the read and all of the memories, more priceless than ever! Thank you Marilyn, know that you have put a great big smile of many peoples faces this Christmas!

A GOLDEN CHRISTMAS GIFT

HS GOLD

 

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Its Beginning To Look A Lot Like Easter

With Ash Wednesday just a day away, I thought it would be interesting to revisit some memories of the Easter Season that I recall.

As a Catholic child, a student of Holy Name Grade School, and an altar boy, the three days prior to Easter marked the most  pious and important days of the liturgical year. Although Holy Week officially began on Palm Sunday, the solemnness of the week really was felt and exhibited on Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday.

I remember the seriousness and significance of the meaning of each day. The good sisters at Holy Name drilled the importance into our impressionable minds throughout our eight years of attendance. My mother and father reinforced those beliefs and certainly, as an altar server, I was fortunate to be part of the observances during Holy Week.

Good Friday stands out as the day that I truly felt the most stirred, and to a degree, frightened by the history of events that occurred that day in the life of Jesus Christ. I remember watching how everything would stop in our home, and an eerie silence would occur in our neighborhood and in the City of Duquesne from noon until 3 p.m. that day. Parents, priests, neighbors, friends all focused on the fact that the crucifixion had taken place at this point in time.

I remember how I would watch the skies at this time. I recall how very often, it seemed toEaster at St. Joseph be either a rainy or cloudy day. The coincidence of the weather with day’s history always made an impression on me. In fact, the photograph below was taken on Good Friday in 1970 during the 12 to 3 p.m. time frame. I had walked up to the statue of the Passion in St. Joseph’s Cemetery and snapped this photo of an approaching store. I found the original copy of this photo recently and noticed that it was dated 3/27/70 on the back. When I check out the date, besides being my brother’s birthday, it was also Good Friday that year.

If you are like me, so much has changed in our lives since the days of our youth. It is so helpful to me to recall all of those things that made this time of year so important in our lives. It restores and  my faith to even greater degree. To me, it is comforting that those doctrines of our faith were embraced and observed throughout our hometown.

After our steadfast observances of the Rites of Easter during Holy Week, like any child, my brother and I looked forward to waking Easter morning to all of the expected and traditional delights of the day. Carefully wrapped cellophane covered Easter baskets were always perched on the dining room table each year. Steve and I would peer through the colorful cellophane wrapping to try to see what was waiting for us inside the basket. We were never allowed to unwrap the basket before we went to Mass, however, before we were old enough to receive Holy Communion, Mom would always have some “spare” chocolate Easter eggs to tide us over.

Walking into Holy Name on Easter Sunday was sensory delight. The fragrances of Spring flowers filled the air. Hyacinths, Easter lilies and tulips graced every altar in the church. Combined with the sometimes “over-the-top” hats that the ladies would wear, the church was alive with color. The pews were packed and the celebration of Easter Mass was truly inspiring. I can still picture it all to this day. Once we returned home from Mass, the events of Volk Family traditions took effect and our day continued to hold one adventure after another that was shared with our entire extended family of Grandparents, Aunts, Uncles and Cousins. These are memories I will never forget!

The following are random images that might conjure up some Easter time memories for you, followed by a synopsis of the history and the rites of Holy Week.

To all of my Duquesne and Hunky friends, Have a Wonderful Easter Holiday!!

HOLY NAME’S FORMER INTERIOR

Holy Name Altar

HOLY TRINITY’S FORMER INTERIOR

HT Church 60s

EASTERTIME WITH THE VOLK BOYS CIRCA 1954 and 1955

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 The Rites of Holy Week – Wikipedia

Holy Week in Latin Rite Catholicism 

Palm Sunday (Passion Sunday)

Holy Week begins with what in the Roman Rite is now called Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord. Before 1955 it was known simply as Palm Sunday, and the preceding Sunday as Passion Sunday. From 1955 to 1971 it was called Second Sunday in Passiontide or Palm Sunday.

 To commemorate the entrance of the Messiah into Jerusalem, to accomplish his paschal mystery, it is customary to have before Mass a blessing of palm leaves (or other branches, for example olive branches). The blessing ceremony, preferably held outside the church includes the reading of a Gospel account of how Jesus rode into Jerusalem humbly on a donkey, reminiscent of a Davidic victory procession, and how people placed palms on the ground in front of him. Immediately following this great time of celebration in the entering of Jesus into Jerusalemé, he begins his journey to the cross. This is followed by a procession or solemn entrance into the church, with the participants holding the blessed branches in their hands.

 The Mass itself includes a reading of the Passion, the narrative of Jesus’ capture, sufferings and death, as recounted in one of the Synoptic Gospels.

 Before the reform of the rite by Pope Pius XI, the blessing of the palms occurred inside the church within a service that followed the general outline of a Mass, with Collect, Epistle and Gospel, as far as the Sanctus. The palms were then blessed with five prayers, and a procession went out of the church and on its return included a ceremony for the reopening of the doors, which had meantime been shut. After this the normal Mass was celebrated. 

Monday to Wednesday

The days between Palm Sunday and Holy Thursday are known as Holy Monday, Holy Tuesday, and Holy Wednesday. The Gospels of these days recount events not all of which occurred on the corresponding days between Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem and his Last Supper. For instance, the Monday Gospel tells of the Anointing at Bethany (John 12:1-9), which occurred before the Palm Sunday event described in John 12:12-19.

 The Chrism Mass, whose texts the Roman Missal now gives under Holy Thursday, may be brought forward to one of these days, to facilitate participation by as many as possible of the clergy of the diocese together with the bishop. This Mass was not included in editions of the Roman Missal before the time of Pope Pius XII. In this Mass the bishop blesses separate oils for the sick (used in Anointing of the Sick), for catechumens (used in Baptism) and chrism (used in Baptism, but especially in Confirmation and Holy Orders, as well as in rites such as the blessing of an altar and a church).

 Tenebrae

When the principal services of Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Easter Vigil were celebrated in the morning, the office of Matins and Lauds of each day was celebrated on the evening of the preceding day in the service known as Tenebrae (Latin, “Darkness”).

Maundy (Holy) Thursday 

Mass of the Lord’s Supper 

On this day the private celebration of Mass is forbidden. Thus, apart from the Chrism Mass for the blessing of the Holy Oils that the diocesan bishop may celebrate on the morning of Holy Thursday, but also on some other day close to Easter, the only Mass on this day is the evening Mass of the Lord’s Supper, which inaugurates the period of three days, known as the Easter Triduum, that includes Good Friday (seen as beginning with the service of the preceding evening), Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday up to evening prayer on that day. 

The Mass of the Lord’s Supper commemorates the Last Supper of Jesus with his Twelve Apostles, “the institution of the Eucharist, the institution of the priesthood, and the commandment of brotherly love that Jesus gave after washing the feet of his disciples.”

 All the bells of the church, including altar bells, may be rung during the Gloria in Excelsis Deo of the Mass (the Gloria is not traditionally sung during the entire Lenten season). The bells and the organ then fall silent until the Gloria at the Easter Vigil. In some countries, children are sometimes told: “The bells have flown to Rome.”

The Roman Missal recommends that, if considered pastorally appropriate, the priest should, immediately after the homily, celebrate the rite of washing the feet of an unspecified number of men, customarily twelve, recalling the number of the Apostles.

A sufficient number of hosts are consecrated for use also in the Good Friday service, and at the conclusion the Blessed Sacrament is carried in procession to a place of reposition away from the main body of the church, which, if it involves an altar, is often called an “altar of repose”.

The altars of the church (except the one used for altar of repose) are later stripped quite bare and, to the extent possible, crosses are removed from the church or veiled. (In the pre-Vatican II rite, crucifixes and statues are covered with violet covers during Passion time, but the crucifix covers can be white instead of violet on Holy Thursday.)

Good Friday 

Roman Catholic Christians treat Good Friday as a fast day, which is defined as only having one full meal with, if needed, two small snacks that together do not make a full meal. 

The Catholic Good Friday in the Roman Rite afternoon service involves a series of readings and meditations, as well as the (sung) reading of the Passion account from the Gospel of John which is often read dramatically, with the priest, one or more readers, and the congregation all taking part. In the traditional Latin liturgy, the Passion is read by the priest facing the altar, with three deacons chanting in the sanctuary facing the people. Unlike Roman Catholic services on other days, the Good Friday service is not a Mass, and in fact, celebration of Catholic Mass on Good Friday is forbidden. Eucharist consecrated the night before (Holy Thursday) may be distributed. The cross is presented, with the people given an opportunity to venerate it. The services also include a long series of formal intercessions. The solemnity and somberness of the occasion has led to a phenomenon whereby in the course of history the liturgical provisions have a tendency to persist without substantial modification, even over the centuries. Some churches hold a three-hour mediation from midday, the Three Hours’ Agony. In some countries, such as Malta, Philippines, Italy and Spain, processions with statues representing the Passion of Christ are held.

The only sacraments celebrated are Penance and Anointing of the Sick. While there is no celebration of the Eucharist, Holy Communion is distributed to the faithful only in the Service of the Passion of the Lord, but can be taken at any hour to the sick who are unable to attend this service.

The altar remains completely bare, without texts, candlesticks, or altar cloths.

It is customary to empty the holy water fonts in preparation of the blessing of the water at the Easter Vigil.

The Stations of the Cross are often prayed either in the church or outside.

The Celebration of the Passion of the Lord takes place in the afternoon, ideally at three o’clock, but for pastoral reasons a later hour may be chosen.

Since 1970, the color of the vestments is red. Previously it was black. If a bishop celebrates, he wears a plain miter.

‘The liturgy consists of three parts in the Roman Rite: the Liturgy of the Word, the Veneration of the Cross, and Holy Communion.

The readings from Isaiah 53 (about the Suffering Servant) and the Epistle to the Hebrews are read. The Passion narrative of the Gospel of John is sung or read, often divided between more than one singer or reader. General Intercessions: The congregation prays for the Church, the Pope, the Jews, non-Christians, unbelievers and others. Veneration of the Cross: A crucifix is solemnly unveiled before the congregation. The people venerate it on their knees. During this part, the “Reproaches” are often sung. Communion service: Hosts consecrated at the Mass of the previous day are distributed to the people. (Before the reform of Pope Pius XII, only the priest received Communion in the framework of what was called the “Mass of the Presanctified”, which included the usual Offertory prayers, with the placing of wine in the chalice, but which omitted the Canon of the Mass.)Even if music is used in the Liturgy, it is not used to open and close the Liturgy, nor is there a formal recessional (closing procession).

It was once customary in some countries, especially England, to place a veiled monstrance with the Blessed Sacrament or a cross in a Holy Sepulchre”.

If crucifixes were covered starting with the next to last Sunday in Lent, they are unveiled without ceremony after the Good Friday service.

Holy Saturday 

Mass is not celebrated on what is liturgically Holy Saturday. The celebration of Easter begins after sundown on what, though still Saturday in the civil calendar, is liturgically Easter Sunday. 

On Holy Saturday the Church waits at the Lord’s tomb in prayer and fasting, meditating on his Passion and Death and on his Descent into Hell, and awaiting his Resurrection.

The Church abstains from the Sacrifice of the Mass, with the sacred table left bare, until after the solemn Vigil, that is, the anticipation by night of the Resurrection, when the time comes for paschal joys, the abundance of which overflows to occupy fifty days.

 In some Anglican churches, including the Episcopal Church in the United States, there is provision for a simple liturgy of the word with readings commemorating the burial of Christ.

The tabernacle is left empty and open. The lamp or candle usually situated next to the tabernacle denoting the Presence of Christ is put out, and the remaining Eucharistic Hosts consecrated on Holy Thursday are kept elsewhere, usually the sacristy, with a lamp or candle burning before it, so that, in cases of the danger of death, they may be given as viaticum.

Easter Vigil 

In the Roman Catholic tradition, the Easter Vigil, the longest and most solemn of the Catholic Church’s liturgical services, lasting up to three or four hours, consists of four parts:

1. The Service of Light

2. The Liturgy of the Word

3. The Liturgy of Baptism: The sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation for new members of the Church and the Renewal of Baptismal Promises by the entire congregation.

4. Holy Eucharist

 

The Liturgy begins after sundown on Holy Saturday as the crowd gathers inside the unlit church. In the darkness (often in a side chapel of the church building or, preferably, outside the church), a new fire is kindled and blessed by the priest. This new fire symbolizes the light of salvation and hope that God brought into the world through Christ’s Resurrection, dispelling the darkness of sin and death. From this fire is lit the Paschal candle, symbolizing the Light of Christ. This Paschal candle will be used throughout the season of Easter, remaining in the sanctuary of the Church or near the lectern, and throughout the coming year at baptisms and funerals, reminding all that that Christ is “light and life.”

 

 

 

 

 

All baptized Catholics present (i.e. those who have received the “Light of Christ”) receive candles which are lit from the Paschal candle. As this symbolic “Light of Christ” spreads throughout those gathered, the darkness is decreased. A deacon, or the priest if there is no deacon, carries the Paschal Candle at the head of the entrance procession and, at three points, stops and chants the proclamation “Light of Christ” or “Christ our Light”, to which the people respond “Thanks be to God.” Once the procession concludes, the deacon or a cantor chants the Exultet (also called the “Easter Proclamation”), and, the church remaining lit only by the people’s candles and the Paschal candle, the people take their seats for the Liturgy of the Word.

 

The Liturgy of the Word consists of between two and seven readings from the Old Testament. The account of the Exodus is given particular attention in the readings since it is considered to be the Old Testament antetype of Christian salvation. Each reading is followed by a psalm and a prayer relating what has been read in the Old Testament to the Mystery of Christ. After these readings conclude, a fanfare may sound on the organ and additional musical instruments and the Gloria in Excelsis Deo is sung. During this outburst of musical jubilation the congregation’s candles are extinguished, the church lights are turned on, and bells rung while the church’s decorative funnings — altar frontals, the reredos, lectern hangings, processional banners, statues and paintings — which had been stripped or covered during Holy Week, are ceremonially replaced and unveiled and flowers are placed on altars and elsewhere. (In the pre-Vatican II rite, the statues, which have been covered during Passion Time, are unveiled at this time. In some places, the church removes the covering of statues and puts Easter flowers and decorations on the day of Holy Saturday before the Easter Vigil celebration. Also, in the current ritual the lights are turned on after the last proclamation of ‘Christ our Light’.) Members of the congregation may have been encouraged to bring flowers which are also brought forward and placed about the sanctuary and side altars. A reading from the Epistle to the Romans is proclaimed. The Alleluia is sung for the first time since the beginning of Lent (or, in the pre-Vatican II rite, since Septuagesima). The Gospel of the Resurrection then follows, along with a homily.

 

After the conclusion of the Liturgy of the Word, the water of the baptismal font is consecrated and any catechumens or candidates for full communion are initiated into the church, by baptism and/or confirmation, respectively. After the celebration of these sacraments of initiation, the congregation renews their baptismal vows and receives the sprinkling of baptismal water. The general intercessions follow.

 

After the Liturgy of Baptism, the Liturgy of the Eucharist continues as usual. This is the first Mass of Easter Day. During the Eucharist, the newly baptized receive Holy Communion for the first time. According to the rubrics of the Missal, the Eucharist should finish before dawn.

 

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A Journey to Christmases Past

Well, Christmas 2018 in the Jim Volk Household came to a halt about an hour ago. My grandsons pooped out about 30 minutes before they left, and their mom and dad ended up carrying them to the car. My youngest daughter and her husband busily helped to unearth our home from the mountain of  giftwrap that cluttered the family room, while my wife feverishly began splitting up the remaining ham and sides for each family to take home to enjoy the next day. Without a doubt, it was a wonderful, beautiful Christmas Day.

Christmas-EveningSo, as I was finally able to relax after a delightful day, I began to think about Christmases past, and how they differed from today’s event. I listened to my daughters talk about how they had such an easy time this year shopping for the perfect gift. Both talked about the simple process of online shopping and how less stressful it was compared to battling crowds of shoppers at the malls, or at big box stores like Target or Walmart. They marveled at how they were able to review a store’s entire assortment of merchandise from the comfort of their living room sofa. Ahh…. Technology has made life so easy for them. Since I too did much of my shopping online or via QVC’s TV broadcast, I couldn’t disagree. It was easy. However, as they talked about the merits of online shopping, I thought about similar conveniences that were available to everyone when we were young.

robesI don’t think anything could ever replace the joy and excitement I felt when shopping with my mother or father at Christmastime. The stores in Duquesne and McKeesport were brimming with a bounty of Christmas gifts and trimmed in their Christmas finery. Nothing could ever compare to the feeling of the cold wintry air and the warmth that you felt when entering the stores. I don’t recall anyone being grumpy. Salespeople would be smiling and helpful , the need for fighting the crowds was never an issue and people always seemed to have a happy look on their face. It was a magical experience.

After my mother died when I was 12, my dad put me in chargedoll of shopping for the aunts, uncles and cousins that we exchanged gifts with each Christmas. Since I was too young to drive, and school work didn’t allow me a great deal of extra time, I took advantage of the precursor of today’s online shopping, CATALOGUES! Since my dad worked for JCPenney, he received a discount for items purchased in stores, but also for items purchased through the Penney Catalogues. I was able to achieve the same level of shopping simplicity as today’s online shopper, all from the comfort of our living room sofa.

Each year, JCPenney, Sears, Montgomery Ward, Aldens, Spiegel, and Key Distributing produced a Christmas Catalogue. Sears called theirs “Sears Wishbook” while Penney’s was simply “JCPenney Christmas Catalogue. Our local department stores, Gimbels, Joseph Hornes, and Kaufmanns also produced a Christmas catalogue, however I rarely purchased items from them due to their prices and the fact that we didn’t receive a discount! I was a glutton for collecting these catalogues and would have a full collection each year.

searsI remember taking hours and meticulously combing through each and every page. I took the job of shopping for the perfect gift very seriously. Each year, after deciding on what I thought was the ideal gift for my aunts, uncles or cousins, I would sit with my dad at the kitchen table and present my ideas to him. I don’t recall a single time when he objected to any selection I had made. Once past that part of the process, I would then be charged with the responsibility of calling in our orders to the Catalogue Desk at JCPenneys in the Eastland Shopping Center in East McKeesport. I would anxiously wait for receive a confirmation that the merchandise was available, and ultimately, when it would be shipped to the Eastland store to be picked-up. This annual process took place for 9 years until I turned 21 and decided to move to California…oh the joys of youth.

I was curious about the availability of these old catalogues. Most of the major companies ceased catalog operations by the end of the 1990’s. Some attempted to test online shopping, but the successes initially were few. I decided to check out eBay to see ifmens anyone was selling the old Christmas catalogues. I was thrilled to see that there were many vintage catalogs were available, but the ones that interested me were too pricey in my opinion. Some were selling for up to $100! Then, like a beacon in the night, I came across a website that featured full color Christmas catalogues from Sears, Penneys, and others. Catalogues from 1937’s 102-page Sears Christmas Catalogue through JCPenney’s 632 page Christmas Catalogue are able to be viewed in their entirety.

So, here’s your chance to recover from the Christmas craziness by checking out some of these catalogues from Christmases past. See what toys were popular in the 40’s, 50’s, 60’s and so on. Listen to some classic Christmas songs like White Christmas or Silent Night, make yourself a cup of hot chocolate while you look through the catalogues, and just enjoy the journey back in time. Let’s keep the spirit of Christmas alive like the traditions of old until January 6th.

Many thanks to Jason from WishbookWeb.com who gave me permission to use images from his site, as well as direct access to the catalogues. To reach the site and begin exploring the spirits of Christmas past, click the link below and ENJOY!!

WISHBOOKWEB.COM

Merry Christmas My Friends

Jim Volk – The Duquesne Hunky

 

 

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Christmas Music To Me Revisited

Up until roughly 1960, we had an old Crosley floor radio and phonograph that sat in our dining room. The turntable only had the capacity to play 78 rpm records, and our selections were limited to say the least. I remember Mom would occasionally play some of the Big Band records that she had purchased years earlier. The records were full of crackles and pops, but we were still able to hear the sounds of Glenn Miller or Les Brown fill the air.

In 1960, Dad decided to purchase Mom a modern piece of equipment that excited her beyond belief. The occasion was their wedding anniversary which was in October. I distinctly remember the day when he decided to give her the present. He wasn’t much into wrapping presents, and so he simply carried a huge cardboard box into the dining room. When Mom opened the box, she was speechless. There before her was a sparkling new Hi-Fi Stereo portable record player! The speakers folded together on the front and were black with a glittery finish. When the speaker were opened, they revealed a silver glittery fabric. The rest of the casing was pink and as “mid-century modern” as you could get. I don’t remember the brand for certain, but it may have been Phillips, Motorola or Zenith. I have not yet been able to locate a photograph of the machine, but I found one that resembled it closely, shown on the left.

Mom loved her new stereo. Imagine, being able to still play her old 78 rpms PLUS being able to buy and play new 45’s and LP albums! Dad had purchased the stereo from his friend Dom Torretti at Dom’s TV, so he knew he got the best. As an added bonus, Dad had received a box of 50 albums when he purchased the stereo. Granted, they were not the most sought after artists, but my parents enjoyed them. There were albums with the Ink Spots, Connie Boswell, Hawaiian music, Big Band Music, Tangos, Beer Drinking Songs (as if Duquesne men needed that type of encouragement!) and dozens of other genres.

Surprisingly, among all of the albums, there were only two Christmas Albums. The first was an album featuring Jack Benny and Dennis Day. It featured a photograph of Jack Benny dressed as Santa Claus and standing in front of what appeared to be Dennis Day’s family who were dressed in their pajamas. Jack was playing his violin and the family appeared to be singing along. It was as hokey of a photo as you could come by, and the album was just as corny. There were songs performed by Dennis Day, some by Jack Benny and even some tracks containing dialog of Jack Benny and Rochester. Believe it or not, I still have the album and I still play it every Christmas since it immediately brings back the memories.

Another of the freebies that Mom received was an album by Fred (?) that featured a pipe organ and bells. It was about as traditional of a Christmas album as you could find. Somewhere along the way, that album was either lost, borrowed or thrown away and I no longer have it. However, thanks to the amazing reach of technology and the internet, I was able to locate a copy of the records on eBay and now have it back in my collection. It too is dragged out every year and played, especially when I’m trimming the tree.

Beyond all other Christmas music, the one album that immediately “brings it home” for me isn’t one that you would expect. In the early 60’s, as a student attending Holy Name Grade School, we were charged with the job of selling a Christmas album that was recorded by the Sisters of St. Joseph in Baden, Pa. The album was titled “In A Manger Lowly” and contained primarily just the voices of the sisters at the Motherhouse in Baden and occasionally some pipe organ accompaniment.

On the back of the album, aside from the lyrics to the songs that were included, there was narrative about the origin of the title song, “In a Manger Lowly.” It reads –

The feature carol of this record, “In a Manger Lowly,” was written in 1916 by Sister M. Victoria, S.S.J., who at present is completely blind, and a patient in the Sister’s Infirmary at Baden, Pennsylvania. Although handicapped, Sister still assists in the work of the community through her apostolate of prayer and suffering. It is the wish of Sister Victoria that all who hear this carol may have a special share in her daily prayers for the needs of all Christians.

I spoke to Sister Sally, the archivist for the Sisters of St. Joseph in Baden, and she gave me some interesting information regarding Sister Victoria.  The Sister was born on 8-6-1869 and died on 10-27-1963, a short time after the album was released. Sister Sally indicated that Sister Victoria was born the very year that the Sisters of St. Joseph expanded into Western PA. – Thanks for the information Sister Sally! 

On a whim, I visited the Sisters of St. Joseph – Baden website and discovered that their album was available on CD through their Gift Shop! I immediately ordered a couple and they are a direct recording from the album master still as magical as when my mom would play her album repeatedly through Christmas. If you would like to get a copy for yourself, here’s how:

Click HERE for CD order form.

Click HERE to visit The Sisters of St. Joseph Motherhouse Website

Click Here to Listen to In A Manger Lowly

Or you can call the main number, (724) 869-2151, and order by phone. Just ask to be connected to The Book Nook Gift Shop and they will take care of you. You can pay by credit card and have it mailed out immediately. As a final alternative, you can print out the order form and mail it to the Motherhouse at the following address:

The Sisters of St. Joseph

The Book Nook Gift Shop

1020 State Street

Baden, PA 15005-1338

And so my friends, I hopefully sign off leaving music in your heart. I am heading up to Duquesne this weekend and will be staying for 5 days. I can’t wait to get home and I’m hoping I encounter some snow along the way as I did at this time last year. I will hopefully return with lots of stories and pictures to share with you.

If there is anything you’d like me to check out, please leave a comment and let me know!

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