Monday, December 31, 2007

2008 New Year's Resolutions

Read my lips, "no new projects!"

I have a hard time saying no and curbing my enthusiasm for new projects. The consequence of that has been a pileup of projects that I have started and not finished. With each project that I start and then set aside for one reason or another my guilt grows. Too much guilt then paralyzes me. No matter which project I start working on I feel guilty that I'm not working on the rest.

So, enough I say! I am going to make every effort to not take on any new projects in 2008. With that in mind, my new year's resolutions are as follows:

1. Get something published.

That's it. That's my one and only new year's resolution. I have started so many things that remain unfinished… I've written two novels for NaNoWriMo (both historical fiction with my ancestors as the main characters) neither of which has been edited or rewritten. At one time or another I started writing up the family history for each of my four grandparents' lines but none of those are anywhere near finished. Last year I started a family cookbook but that project got sidelined when my mom died in April. I've been collecting information on my maternal grandparents' parish church for some time now but I just haven't created the website to put it all together. I've been working on a database of the cemetery records and funeral records for Sweetest Heart of Mary Church on and off for a couple years now, I'm not done with that either. I've scanned somewhere between 6-10 complete parish jubilee books but I haven't done anything else with them. I've written up all of my Christmas memories and photographed my entire collection of Christmas ornaments including the ones I recently inherited from my mother. I'd really like to put that all together in a book. I've started scrapbooking my mother's life decade by decade but I'm not done with that either. And then there are all those photographs that need to be scanned… that's not a publishing project but it's an import ongoing project nonetheless.

At this point I've made no decisions about which projects I will tackle or in what order. Obviously some will require more time and effort than others to complete. I would dearly love to see something I've written (besides journal articles) in print. I will be satisfied if at the end of 2008 I have a published copy of anything.

Happy New Year 2008!

Sunday, December 30, 2007

My Blogging Year in Review, 2007

I didn't set any goals for myself in terms of blogging for 2007 but I accomplished quite a bit even without them. When I look back on the year I'm a bit surprised at how much I was able to write. I often feel like something of a slacker because I can't produce the volume and quality of work that my blogging buddies who are retired can. But I think I've done all right for a part-timer.
Not a bad body of work all things considered. I'm rather pleased with it.

What did I enjoy writing the most? Without a doubt it was the 24 posts for the Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories. Not only was I writing about a happy subject but I was writing from memory… my favorite way to write. I guess that suggests I should be writing a personal blog instead of a genealogy blog, eh? The truth is, I don't mind doing research for a blog article. In fact I enjoy it. What I don't enjoy, and truly detest, is footnoting and all the technical details involved in putting together a professional, academic-caliber piece. I guess that's why writing fiction appeals to me… no rules! LOL! I guess we know who won't be receiving the footnote Maven's "Good Citations Stamp" anytime soon ;-)

So what did you enjoy reading the most?

I'm still playing around with the idea of creating a format for my blog (e.g. Monday is photography day, Tuesday is genealogy day, etc.). On the one hand I'd like to be able to pre-write my blog posts. I did that with about 1/3 of my 24 Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories posts. It took a lot of pressure off me and made the writing process more enjoyable. On the other hand, I bristle at the idea of having to conform to "rules" on my blog even if they are of my own making. I may give it a try though just to see if I like it. That's not an official new year's resolution by the way, just something I'm thinking about ;-)

Any thoughts on the idea?

Tomorrow I'll post my new year's resolutions for 2008.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

2007, My Year In Review

I do a lot of looking back. I guess all of us in the field of genealogy do that don't we? This past year didn't go the way I'd expected it to, at least not in terms of researching and recording my family history. I started off pretty well but was completely derailed when my friend Bob died in March and my mom just a few weeks later in April.

My New Year's resolutions for 2007 included three things: tagging all my photographs, giving up my Diet Coke habit to become a tea drinker, and picking a project from my theme/focus list for 2007 and seeing it to completion.

I started off tagging my photos and that was going quite well until I realized that Adobe Photoshop products and Google's Picasa don't play nice together. Tags created in one didn't always show up in the other. It caused me a great deal of frustration and I was not able to resolve the dilemma of how to create tags once that would be available in both programs. So I gave up on tagging.

I worked very hard at cutting back on the Diet Coke consumption and increasing my tea drinking. I have to give myself at least partial credit on this one. While I haven't entirely stopped my consumption of Diet Coke I have cut down a bit. And my tea consumption has gone up considerably. I've even gotten in the habit of carrying my own tea bags in my purse so that I have no excuse for not drinking tea when I'm on the go.

The project I picked to focus on for 2007 was the family cookbook. That project barely got off the ground. I was still in the stage of evaluating software and collecting recipes from family members when my mom died. Not only did I lose interest at that point but I was distracted by the larger project of helping to settle my mom's estate.

In addition to my three New Year's resolutions for 2007 I also identified 10 projects that all involved preserving memories. I made good progress on three of those 10 projects. Number six was to start writing my memoirs. I did that initially following Miriam's prompts and then finished the year with 24 blog posts about my memories of Christmas. Number eight involved digital scrapbooking. I had hoped to get one scrapbook page a week done, that didn't happen. But I did average almost two pages a month. Number nine involved getting an oral family history from my mother in law in and scanning all of her old photos and yearbooks. I didn't get the oral family history done but I did manage to scan all of her old photos and yearbooks (no small feat). I still have to burn them to CDs.

It would be convenient to simply say that I didn't accomplish as much as I wanted to in the last year because I was so distracted by the death of my mother and settling her estate afterwards. However, in truth I spent the largest share of my "free time" in the last year blogging, not dealing with my mother's affairs (although I did a good bit of that too). If I had done less blogging there's no doubt I would've gotten more of the other things done.

Tomorrow I'll review my blogging in the past year.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Index to Jasia's Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories

Week 1 of the Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories

December 1 .: Topic - The Christmas Tree :.
Oh Christmas Tree!

December 2 .: Topic - Christmas Tree Ornaments :.
If Ornaments Define the Character of a Christmas Tree...

December 3 .: Topic - Holiday Foods :.
Christmas Eve Feast

December 4 .: Topic - Christmas Cards :.
Christmas Cards Over the Years

December 5 .: Topic - Outdoor Decorations :.
Holiday Lights in Our Neighborhood

December 6 .: Topic - Santa Claus :.
Santa Claus and Me

December 7 .: Topic - Christmas Grab Bag (open topic) :.
Lucyna's Memories of Christmas

Week 2 of the Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories

December 8 .: Topic - Christmas Cookies :.
Christmas Cookies: A Holiday Staple

December 9 .: Topic - Holiday Parties :.
Holiday Parties

December 10 .: Topic - Christmas Gifts :.
My Favorite Christmas Gifts: One to Ride, One to Wear, One to Share

December 11 .: Topic - Holiday Travel :.
The Christmas That Wasn't

December 12 .: Topic - Charitable/Volunteer Work :.
The Christmas That Almost Wasn't

December 13 .: Topic - Christmas and the Arts :.
Christmas Entertainment

Week 3 of the Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories

December 14 .: Topic - Fruitcake - Friend or Foe? :.
I Love Fruitcake!

December 15 .: Topic - Grab Bag (Open Topic) :.

December 16 .: Topic - Christmas at School :.
Christmas at My Elementary School

December 17 .: Topic - Christmas Church Services :.
In Church at Christmas

December 18 .: Topic - Christmas Stockings :.
I Had a Boot

December 19 .: Topic - Christmas Shopping :.
Last Minute Christmas Shopping

December 20 .: Topic - Christmas and Deceased Relatives :.
Cemetery Visits at Christmas

Week 4 of the Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories

December 21 .: Topic - Christmas Music :.
Christmas Music Through the Years

December 22 .: Topic - Grab Bag (Open Topic) :.
Not All Memories are Happy Ones

December 23 .: Topic - Christmas Sweetheart Memories :.
Christmas Sweethearts

December 24 .: Topic - Christmas Eve :.
Christmas Eve, The Best Day of the Year!

These articles were written for the Blog Carnival, Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories, hosted by Thomas MacEntee at Destination: Austin Family. Stop by and read others' memories of Christmases past!

Monday, December 24, 2007

Christmas Eve, the Best Day of the Year!

When I was a child, we celebrated Christmas on Christmas Eve. That is to say, it was the big event day. My mom spent the day in the kitchen cooking a big dinner. The Christmas tree (always a real one) was put up in the living room about a week before Christmas. My oldest brother spent Christmas Eve day shopping for gifts... he always left his shopping for Christmas Eve. (We always worried if he would be back when the turkey was done or if it would dry out while we waited for him to get home.) My dad typically spent the day puttering around in the garage or at his work bench in the basement.

I was usually on emotional overload from the time I woke up in the morning. I would help my mom in kitchen not so much because I enjoyed cooking but because it gave me something to do. You know what I mean. That was back in the days before video games, computers, cable T.V., DVD movies, etc. when the options for entertaining oneself were limited. So I'd help my mom for a while and then go sit in the living room and stare at the Christmas tree and the few gifts that had been placed under it. I'd pick up each gift that had my name on it and try to guess what was inside. I never guessed right but it was a good exercise for my imagination. After a while I'd get bored and wander back in to the kitchen and ask my mom what I could do. She'd always find something to keep my hands busy for a while.

Eventually my brother would come home from shopping and rush upstairs to his room to wrap the gifts he bought. My mom would grumble that the turkey was going to dry out and would rush around putting all the food in serving bowls. I would get assigned the task of carrying the dishes to the table. I was so excited at that point that I worried that I might drop a dish or bowl. That was the height of my excitement... the moments just before we sat down to dinner. Once we sat down to eat, the evening I lived for 364 days of the year began. As a kid, there was absolutely nothing I enjoyed more than Christmas Eve.

The food was always fabulous (and the turkey was never dry ;-) My mom was a wonderful cook. We usually had turkey and all the trimmings, sometimes a ham too. And kielbasa. Always kielbasa. Both fresh and smoked varieties. Sometimes there were mashed potatoes but more often than not we had pierogi... both the potato and cheese variety and the ones filled with sauerkraut. We had baked sweet potatoes too. I don't remember the vegetables, but I'm sure there were some ;-) Fresh bread was always a staple on our table too. And then there were the desserts. My mom was literally born in a bakery and grew up there too. My maternal grandparents owned the bakery and my mom learned to bake bread, cakes, pastries, pies, cookies, etc. at an early age. She made such wonderful goodies!

Dinner was always just our immediate family. We would all eat quickly with little conversation to begin with. Then when the desserts were served the conversation would pick up and we would linger at the table enjoying the chruschiki (angel wings), cheesecake, cherry pie, Christmas cookies (cut out cookies, spritzes, and "chicken necks"), and best of all, the fruitcake! I have never understood why people make fun of fruitcake. Those who don't like it never tasted my mom's. She always made several cakes in October and put them in the attic to stay cool and let the flavors blend. Of all my mom's recipes, her fruitcake is the one my brothers and I treasure the most. How I miss her fruitcakes!!!

After dinner my mom would go back into the kitchen and try to figure out where to put all the leftovers (our refrigerator was never big enough). I'd help her by cleaning the table and carrying the dishes to her. As soon as the food was put away and the dishes were done (except for those that had to soak a while), we'd all pile into the car to go see Christmas lights. Back in those days, people didn't put lights on their houses on Thanksgiving weekend. For the most part, you didn't see people putting up their outdoor lights until a week or so before Christmas (usually the same time they put up their Christmas tree). And more often than not, they didn't turn their lights on until Christmas Eve. So driving around to see them was always a much anticipated treat.

No sooner would we all get in the car than either my mom or my dad would realize they'd forgotten something (usually my dad forgot his cigarettes ;-). We'd all groan and wait impatiently while they went back into the house to get it. Unbeknownst to us kids, they would actually be getting the gifts out of hiding and putting them under the tree. After we drove around looking at lights for an hour or so, making a point of driving by my aunts' and uncles' houses who lived nearby, we would return home to find that Santa had been to our house while we were gone!

My family was a typical blue-collar, working class family. But when Christmas Eve came around you'd have thought we were rich. There were always a lot of gifts around the tree and to a child's eyes the packages seemed enormous. I always got everything on my Christmas list except a real horse. I put "pony/horse" on the top of my list every year but I never got one (as a child I didn't understand about city ordinances prohibiting such things).

After we were done opening our gifts we would sit around and play with our toys, drink hot chocolate and nibble on ribbon candy, mixed nuts, and the little hard candies that look just like raspberries. Eventually, the excitement would wind down and I'd go to bed.

Here's a picture of me with my brother Jerry on Christmas Eve after the presents were opened. Notice my bride doll and Huckleberry Hound? And that couch... so vintage 50s!

On Christmas Day we went to Mass in the morning and then spent the day at home or occasionally visiting relatives. It was not as fun as Christmas Eve but it was still a nice day with lots of good left overs and all our new toys to play with.

The Christmas tree would be taken down a few days later, usually the day before New Year's Eve. My mom's rule was that the tree had to be taken down before we welcomed in the New Year.

I am fortunate in that when I married (both times) my mother in laws (both lovely women who I've never had a squabble with) hosted family gatherings on Christmas Day. This worked out well because we never had to choose who to spend the Christmas holiday with. We've always spent Christmas Eve with my family and Christmas Day with my husband's family. I've hosted Christmas Eve for my family at our house for the past 20 years and will do so again this year. I can only remember hosting my husband's family once on Christmas Day. All the other times my mother in law has hosted it at her house.
I want to say a special thank you to Thomas MacEntee for all the work he has done putting together all our Advent Calendar of Christmas Memory posts. I don't know if I've more enjoyed recording my own Christmas memories or reading everyone else's! There were times, in the past month, when I didn't think I'd be able to get through all 24 days of posting. This was definitely the longest string of consecutive days I've posted to my blog since I started blogging. Whew! And thanks to everyone who has participated in this project. I've really enjoyed reading about your Christmas memories and seeing all the pictures you've shared!

As you're reading this, I'm most likely in the kitchen cooking food for Christmas Eve (I start cooking 3 days ahead of time) or else I'm doing some last minute gift wrapping. I hope you are busily creating happy holiday memories of your own. I wish you and yours a wonderful, safe, and Merry Christmas!

[The Advent calendar number graphic used in this post was created by NicNic at the NBK blog.]

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Christmas Sweethearts

The first Christmas that I dated my high school sweetheart he gave me a gold heart shaped pendant with a diamond chip in it. It said "Love" in a ribbon of gold cross the heart. The pendant was in a red velvet lined, heart shaped, gold toned jewelry box. (I was 17 at the time and very much in love. I thought it was the most romantic gift imaginable!)

The first Christmas we were married (4 years later) he forgot to get me a Christmas present (we had been married 6 mos to the day on Christmas Eve). He didn't realize it until we were loading up the car on Christmas Eve at about 3:00pm. We were due at my mom's at 5:00 pm for Christmas Eve dinner and opening presents followed by midnight Mass and an hour and 1/2 drive to Lansing to be at his parents' house to open presents Christmas morning.

"Oh, Oh. I forgot your present", he said. "I'll run out right now and pick it up. I know your feelings will be hurt if I don't. I know just what I was gonna get I just forgot to pick it up. I'll go get it now and be back in a few minutes. You're gonna love it!"

So what did he get me? A bowling ball.

We were divorced almost exactly 3 years to the day of our wedding. (No, it wasn't because of the bowling ball!)

The first Christmas that I dated my current sweetie he bought me a book, Happiness Is... A Warm Puppy by Charles M. Schulz. We didn't spend that Christmas together because he was on a ski trip in Jackson Hole, Wyoming over the Christmas holiday. But he did call me long distance Christmas Eve evening to let me know that he was thinking of me.

He bought me a piece of jewelry for Christmas the first year we were married (4 years later), as he has each of the 23 years since. And he hasn't had to be reminded even once.

Happiness is not being forgotten at Christmas :-)

[The Advent calendar number graphic used in this post was created by NicNic at the NBK blog.]

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Not All Christmas Memories Are Happy Ones

It's so nice to have the happy childhood memories of Christmas I've shared with you this month. Unfortunately, those aren't my only memories. There are others that are dark and ugly. I'm re-posting something I wrote last year at this time because the memories are still just as clear, the message is still just as timely, and it was a significant part of my childhood Christmases that needs to be included in my Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories.

My father was a mean drunk and he always had to have a drink at Christmas (and New Years). Unfortunately, it never ended with one drink. One led to another and another. There aren't too many of those wonderful Christmases that didn't end up with my dad beating the heck out of my mom. As a child with limited options I was forced to witness it and helpless to do anything to effectively intervene. I loved my dad and when he was sober he was a reasonable and nice guy. But when he drank he was as mean as they come. I debated about whether to mention the ugly part of my Christmases in this Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories, but if I didn't my retelling of things would have amounted to deception by omission. If I'd only told the pretty part of the picture that would not have been honest.

Back in those days, divorce was not an option for Catholics. And things like spouse abuse were never discussed. It was our family's dirty little secret. Except that it was never a secret. The reason we celebrated Christmas with just our immediate family is because my dad had been thrown out of most of his siblings' and all of my mom's siblings' houses over the years. They were fed up with his drunken nastiness and forbid him to come over on Christmas Eve. When we did go to visit with family on Christmas Day it would only be long enough to have a drink (yes, they knowingly contributed to the situation by offering him a drink "because it was Christmas") and then we'd be hurried out the door. After a few visits he'd be lit up, we'd return home, and my mom would end up the target of his drunken rage. Again.

I wish I'd had a Normal Rockwell, Donna Reed, or Ozzie and Harriet family, but that was not the case. No, we were a dysfunctional family with lots of warts and thorns in our makeup. It's a tough call when recording one's family history to decide what to include and what to omit. I was always told not to speak ill of the dead. And maybe I shouldn't be writing about my dad this way. But on the other hand, maybe someday my children will read this and gain some insight. Maybe there's someone out there reading this right now who has a drinking problem and will realize how their drinking impacts their family and how their ugliness will be remembered.

I'm not bitter about my dad's drinking and his violence against my mom. Perhaps I should be but I've long ago forgiven him. Now I try to remember only the good times and for the most part I'm successful. It serves no purpose to taint my current Christmas spirit by dwelling on the dark side of my childhood Christmases. I'll pray for peace on earth and hope that no family will have to face the ugliness of fear and violence in their own home at Christmas.

May your home be blessed with joy and happiness and be violence-free this holiday season.

[The Advent calendar number graphic used in this post was created by NicNic at the NBK blog.]

Friday, December 21, 2007

Christmas Music Through The Years

I can't imagine Christmas without music. My earliest memories of Christmas include singing Christmas carols at church on Christmas Day. Hark the Herald Angels Sing, Joy to the World, Silent Night, and the First Noel were standards we sang in church every Christmas. I remember thinking that more people sang along in church when we sang Christmas carols than at any other time of the year. They probably did, because they knew the words by heart.

I never sang in the church choir. The truth is, I can't carry a tune. I like to sing and I'm one of those people who sings out loud to the songs on the radio, but only when I'm alone. At my parents' house we only had two Christmas record albums that I can remember. One had a purple label and I think it said Motorola. I don't specifically remember the label on the other album but I think it was RCA. Both albums had a variety of Christmas songs and I played them over and over again for many a holiday season.

My all time favorite American Christmas song is Silver Bells. Whenever I hear that song it brings back a special memory for me. What I remember is walking with my mom on a snowy winter night. We were walking down Military Street toward Duvall School in Dearborn. I remember looking up at the streetlights and thinking the snow looked just like it does in the plastic snow globes. Silver Bells was playing over loudspeakers... or maybe we were singing along to the car radio and we weren't walking at all. It's funny how I can easily call the memory up but at the same time it's quite vague. I don't know if this really happened or if I dreamed it. This wasn't our neighborhood. I don't know why we would've been there. I don't know if Dearborn ever had loudspeakers playing Christmas songs. But the scene comes to mind whenever I hear that song and I get a happy feeling all over. Strange, eh? Here's a picture of the area taken in the daytime.

When I was in the eighth grade a new girl moved into the neighborhood. Her name was Valerie and she became my best friend through high school. Valerie had the voice of a songbird (she went on to sing the National Anthem at major sporting events). I made the mistake of going caroling with her exactly one time. She sang beautifully and I tried the harmonize. It was a disaster! LOL! We earned a good bit of money that evening but I'm sure it was given to us out of pity!

When I was in college at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor I heard the Messiah performed live for the first time. It was very moving. I have a recording of the Messiah on CD and I listen to it at least once each holiday season.

I've collected a good number of Christmas CDs over the years and I really enjoy listening to Christmas carols on the radio when I drive around the city. But the Christmas music I've enjoyed more than any other was the Christmas concerts I went to when my daughter played in various orchestras. My daughter took up the violin in the seventh grade and that was the year she played in her first Christmas concert. Naturally, she was terrific! She continued to play the violin through middle school and high school and I never missed a one of her concerts. Besides the school concerts, she also played in a regional youth symphony orchestra, and with the Southern Great Lakes Symphony Orchestra during her high school years. Later, she played in the Eastern Michigan University Orchestra. I never missed one of those concerts either. Without a doubt the most beautiful Christmas music I've ever heard was whatever and wherever my daughter was playing.

Polish Christmas carols (koledy) have to have the second place in my heart when it comes to holiday music. I was first introduced to them in 2001. I had recently started attending Sweetest Heart of Mary Church in Detroit, a Polish parish that has maintained it's ethnic flavor for the more than 100 years it has been in existence. It was also the year I discovered my family members living in Poland. They sent me my first Polish Christmas music CD. I fell in love with the beautiful haunting melodies even without knowing what the words meant. I have added several koledy CDs to my collection over the years (I just got 2 more this week!) and I treasure the sounds of the songs my ancestors sang in their churches, in their homeland of Poland, on Christmas.

[The Advent calendar number graphic used in this post was created by NicNic at the NBK blog.]

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Christmas Humor

I am so far behind with my Christmas preparations that I'm wondering if it's even possible for it to just "all come together" nicely at the end like it always seems to do. Unexpected (family) problems have thrown me for a loop and completely distracted me from all that is Christmas. I have struggled to put together my Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories posts and will make every attempt to finish the last few but my time is at a premium. No cookies baked yet. Not done with shopping or wrapping. No shopping lists made for groceries.

But I did find a moment to laugh, thanks to Janice Brown at Cow Hampshire. I'll share that with you here because it's just a hoot!

Thank you, Janice. Once again my GeneaBlogger friend has come through with a laugh when I most needed it. This very clever cartoon was created by her.

"Naughty elves in Santa's Toy Shop include Craig Manson of GeneaBlogie, Apple of Apple's Tree, Randy Seaver of Genea-Musings, Jasia of Creative Gene, and Miriam of Ancestories, The Stories of My Ancestors."

Check out Janice's blog post for even more cartoon giggles!

Cemetery Visits at Christmas

I remember visiting my grandparents graves quite often when I was a child. My mom and dad made regular trips to the cemetery, I'd say about every month or so. All four of my grandparents are buried in the same cemetery, Holy Cross, a catholic cemetery in Detroit.

Like most kids, I was a little spooked by being at the cemetery. I enjoyed looking at the various different gravestones near my grandparents graves but I kept pretty close to mom and dad's side. My parents took their grave tending pretty seriously. They always went prepared with shovels and trowels, gardening gloves and a watering can. In the summer and fall we took along fresh cut flowers from my parents back yard. At Christmas each grave received a grave blanket.

In both my moms and dads family's, the siblings all took turns buying grave blankets. Generally, the grave blankets were about 4 feet in length and were made of pine branches with a big bow and a few plastic flowers or ornaments. Here is an example of a typical grave blanket.

My parents are buried at Saint Hedwig cemetery in Dearborn Heights. At that cemetery they don't allow grave blankets. Instead, you are permitted to place an evergreen wreath on a wire tripod on each grave. Here's a picture of my parents' graves with their Christmas wreaths.

I don't remember my parents ever going to the cemetery on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. They would go to visit their parents graves on a Saturday or Sunday a week or two before the Christmas holiday. We wouldn't stay long due to the cold weather. We would get out of the car, walk to the grave site, say a couple prayers (silently), and then get back in the nice warm car. We didn't drive off right away though. Usually my mom or dad would sit in silence for a moment or two gazing out the windows at their parents graves. Sometimes they'd share a story, some little thing they remembered about their mother or father. The cemetery visits always seemed to trigger stories. How I wish I'd thought to record those them!

Even though it is a tradition in Poland to set an empty place setting at the Christmas dinner table for any unexpected guest who may visit or to remember a deceased loved one, I don't remember that as a part of our holiday dinners. I do remember my mom telling me about the tradition though. We may have done it once but I don't have a clear memory of it. I'm sure the reason that we didn't do it every year was because my parents' house was so small and seating area was at a premium.

I would imagine that my parents thought about their parents at Christmastime but they didn't talk about them. I don't remember them talking about any of their deceased siblings at the holidays either.

[The Advent calendar number graphic used in this post was created by NicNic at the NBK blog.]

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Last Minute Christmas Shopping

As I mentioned before, I made it easy for everyone when it came to Christmas shopping. I made up my Christmas list and taped it to my bedroom door. But nobody else in my family made it that easy.

I didn't get an allowance until I was 15. I don't remember ever having the opportunity to earn money doing chores around the house either. So I guess I probably didn't buy Christmas gifts for my family when I was a kid (except one time). I don't remember buying any.

My mom always wracked her brain trying to come up with one special gift for my brothers. When she came up with an idea she'd buy one for each of them. The year when the sale flyers were showing leather jackets for men she bought one for each of them. When she decided they should each have a sports hobby, they both got sets of golf clubs for Christmas. I loved shopping, even back then. So she would always take me with her, for a second opinion, when she went shopping for their gifts.

Here's my brothers trying on their leather jackets.

My dad had an entirely different idea about Christmas gift giving. When we were all done opening our presents, he would open up his wallet and hand each of us a $100 bill.

But what sticks out the most in my mind when I think about Christmas shopping when I was growing up has to do with my oldest brother, Joe. Joe always, and I mean always, waited until Christmas Eve to do all of his Christmas shopping. The problem was my mom never knew what time he was coming home from shopping. And she never knew exactly when the turkey was going to be done. And she would become absolutely frantic that her Christmas Eve dinner would be ruined while we all waited for him to get home. There were no cell phones in those days, no text messaging, no easy way for him to let us know what time he'd be home. My mom would tell him to figure on the turkey being done about six and then, wouldn't you know it, that turkey would be done at five. And then Joe wouldn't get home until 6:30 because he couldn't find what he was looking for and couldn't come home empty handed. His last minute shopping always seemed to create a problem!

Places we used to shop when I was very young: Federals Department Store on Ecorse Rd. in Taylor; Montgomery Wards on Michigan Ave. at Schaeffer Rd. in east Dearborn and sometimes the one in Wonderland Mall at Plymouth Rd. and Middlebelt Rd. in Livonia (Wonderland was an outdoor mall opened in 1959); Crowley's in Westborn Mall (Michigan Ave. at Outer Drive) in Dearborn; J. C. Penney's on Fort Street in Lincoln Park; The S & H Green Stamp redemption center was also located in the same area, Fort Street in Lincoln Park; Hudson's Budget Store (my Aunt Renee worked there) on Michigan Ave. at Greenfield in east Dearborn; Muirheads on Michigan Ave. at Military in Dearborn; Sears Roebuck on Southfield Rd. at Dix Rd. in Lincoln Park; People's Clothing Store (my Dad's favorite store to shop at) on Michigan Ave. at John Daly in Dearborn Heights and on Schaeffer Rd. north of Michigan Ave. in east Dearborn.

Places we used to shop when I was a bit older (1960s-70s): KMart on Van Born Rd. in Taylor, I don't know when this store opened but I'd guess in the 1960s (my first job was working as a cashier here); Westland Mall at Warren Ave. and Wayne Rd. in Westland (opened 1965); Southland Mall on Eureka Rd. in Taylor (opened 1970); Northland Mall on Eight Mile Rd. in Southfield (opened 1954 as an outdoor mall) and eventually Fairlane Town Center on Michigan Ave. at the Southfield Freeway M39 in Dearborn (opened in 1976).

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Carnival of Genealogy, 38th Edition

Welcome to the December 18, 2007 edition of the Carnival of Genealogy. The theme for this edition of the COG is: The New Millennium. What were you up to? How did you prepare for the New Year 2000? GeneaBloggers write about their memories of the turn of the century and the turn of the millennium. Take some time out from your holiday happenings and see what these folks were doing. Maybe it will jog your memory...

Chery Kinnick relived the trip of a lifetime while ushering in the New Millennium in, Traveling on the Cusp of a New Millennium posted at Nordic Blue. Wonderful memories, wonderful writing! Thanks for sharing, Chery!

For Bill West the New Millennium meant the end of the worst year of his life. Read his sad story in, Y2K posted at West in New England. We're sorry to hear of your difficult year Bill, but awfully glad you got on with your life. This has been a difficult year for you too, losing Diana. Here's hoping that 2008 will be better.

Becky Wiseman shared her memories of New Year's Eve 1999 posted at kinexxions. She also included a clever little parody of "Twas the Night Before Christmas" that involves a certain little bug... Thanks for sharing, Becky!

Terry Snyder presents New Year's Eve ... 1999 posted at Desktop Genealogist, saying, "Thanks for an idea that pushed me to write on a topic that I never would have thought of exploring." I know why Terry wouldn't have thought to explore the subject of New Year's Eve 1999. She'd rather forget it! She had an entirely different little bug story to tell... Thanks for sharing with us, Terry!

Lori Thornton spent a quiet evening Ringing in the Millennium, posted at Smoky Mountain Family Historian. Thanks for sharing your experience with us, Lori!

Thomas MacEntee tells us of, The New Millenium: Alone Again, Naturally posted at Destination: Austin Family. A quiet evening at home to ring in the New Millennium is a good thing when you're a IT professional who's been trying to head off "the bug" for past several months! Thanks for sharing, Thomas!

Janice Brown gives us all a great history lesson in, New Hampshire: Facing The New Millennium and New Century posted at Cow Hampshire. The ever clever Janice takes a look at what our ancestors might have been up to when they rang in the new century of 1900. Thanks for a great glimpse into the past Janice!

Terry Thornton presents Remembering Y2K posted at Hill Country of Monroe County, Mississippi. Terry got all ready for the world as we knew it to come to an end, Spam and all. Thanks for sharing what was happening in your corner of the world, Terry!

Apple writes about watching the Y2K celebrations around the world shown on CNN, posted at Apple's Tree. I'd forgotten all about CNN's great coverage of the Y2K celebrations until I read Apple's post. Thanks for reminding me Apple! And thanks for sharing your New Millennium's Eve with us too.

John Newmark points out that there is more than one calendar and the "New Millennium" was a relative thing in, Millennial Memories posted at Transylvanian Dutch. Thanks for sharing your very unique perspective, John!

Tim Agazio was far from home when the year 2000 arrived. In, The New Millennium in Task Force Eagle - Bosnia and Herzegovina posted at Genealogy Reviews Online Tim shares with us what it was like to be in the military and stationed far from home when the New Millennium arrived. Thanks for sharing your unique experience, Tim!

Susan Kitchens presents Y2K Retrospective posted at Oral Family History Using Digital Tools. And in this article she reflects on getting her start at blogging among other things. Can you believe she's been blogging for EIGHT YEARS?!!! How about a round of applause for Susan! Great going, girl! Thanks for taking us down memory lane with you!

Miriam Robbins Midkiff had her family well prepared in, The Midkiff Family: Y2K Ready presented at AnceStories. She too was ready to end a not-so-happy 1999 and welcome in 2000. Thanks for sharing your New Millennium experience with us, Miriam!

Jasia shares Welcoming the New Millennium posted at Creative Gene. I guess I come off looking like the party girl here. Come on over and see what I was up to as we counted down the hours till the New Millennium arrived!

That concludes this edition of the COG. I hope you enjoyed it! And now it's time for a Call For Submissions! The theme for the next edition of the Carnival of Genealogy will be: New Year's Resolutions. As the year winds to a close in the next couple weeks it's a good time to review the progress made in our genealogy research and to make a plan for next year. So what did you accomplish last year and what road blocks did you encounter? What are your research goals for next year and how do you resolve to attain them? Write 'em up and submit your blog articles to the next edition of the Carnival of Genealogy using our carnival submission form. The deadline for submissions is January 1, 2008.

Since this is the last edition of the COG that will be published this year I'd like to take this opportunity to thank each and every one of you who has participated in the Carnival of Genealogy in 2007. We've had some fun carnival editions this year along with some serious and scholarly ones. I like to mix up the themes not only to stretch ourselves as writers and researchers but to try to get more people participating. It is my hope that the COG has provided our readers with some thought provoking ideas, some eye opening issues, some great research suggestions, an introduction to some of our ancestors, and made for some good ole belly laughs. I certainly think that has been the case! A special thanks goes out to all my friends who took a turn hosting the COG this past year. I really enjoyed and appreciated your editions! Thank you!

Merry Christmas, and Happy Hanukkah to you all! And may the New Year of 2008 bring you good health and every happiness!!!

Past posts and future hosts can be found on our blog carnival index page.

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I Had A Boot

Many of us have shared similar stories in our posts in this Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories. But I'll bet if I went back and looked I would find that for each day there was at least one person who had a memory of Christmas that stood out from the ordinary, being quite unique or unusual. And I'm thinking that in today's round of posts that person will be me. You see, I didn't have a Christmas stocking when I was a kid. I had a Christmas boot.

My boot was red with white "snow" on it. I think it was supposed to be Santa's boot given the red color and all. It wasn't a very large boot, maybe 8 to 10 inches tall. I don't know if it was supposed to be for Santa's left foot or right foot. I'm not sure what it was made of. I would guess plastic or paper mâche. I don't remember a lot of the details of my boot because the really exciting part was always what was inside.

I can't remember specific things that I got in my boot, but what I seem to remember was that my mom used it to hold my very small size gifts so they wouldn't get lost or crushed by the bigger presents around the Christmas tree. That's where my boot was set out for Santa to fill, under the Christmas tree.

I don't remember how old I was when I first realized that other kids had a Christmas stocking instead of a boot. I do remember asking my mom why I didn't have a Christmas stocking. Her reply was, "We don't have a fireplace. There's no place to hang a stocking." That made sense to me!

At some point the tradition of the Christmas boot ended. I'm thinking it must've been when my mom realized that I knew about Santa Claus. Eventually the boot was used as a decoration around the house. I don't remember feeling upset or disappointed when I couldn't set the boot out under the tree anymore. I have no idea what ever happened to that boot. I'm guessing my mom must have pitched it in the trash somewhere along the line.

My Christmas boot has been in most of the pictures that I've shared with you but you probably didn't notice it. Here's a very clear picture of me with my Christmas boot. I'm four years old in this picture. I'm guessing that the cross I'm wearing was a gift just recently pulled out of my boot and I am modeling it for the camera. It's just the sort of "small" gift that I would have found in my boot.

But wait! I don't want you to think that I went stocking-less all of my life. I did not. I have a stocking that I've received gifts from Santa in for the last 15 years or so. It hangs on my fireplace mantle every Christmas Eve along with the stockings of the other members of my family. It's a pretty ordinary stocking, as stockings go. But I like it because it is mine :-)

And last but not least, I have one very special stocking to share with you. This one is another of the gifts I have received from my relatives in Poland. The stocking is pretty ordinary but what's inside is not. In order for you to appreciate the contents of my stocking from Poland you have to know yet one more endearing Polish Christmas tradition.

Christmas Eve is a very holy and somber occasion in Poland. In fact, all of Advent is a time of quiet reflection and prayer. Weddings are not performed, there are no dances and it's not a time of loud partying. It's a time when people look inside themselves and reflect on their shortcomings and sins, ask forgiveness, and prepare themselves spiritually for the celebration of the birth of Christ. Unlike in the U.S., they don't start holiday partying before there is a reason to celebrate (you know, the "reason for the season"). Their Christmas season starts with a solemn Christmas Eve and continues through till Candlesmas, February 2nd.

Christmas Eve in Poland has so much tradition and spiritual meaning behind it that there are entire books written on the subject. I can't go into all of that here in one post but I will tell you one tradition and the symbolism attached to it.

It is customary in Poland to place straw or hay on the dinner table and cover it with a white tablecloth on Christmas Eve. The straw and hay symbolizes the manger where the Christ child was born. The white tablecloth symbolizes the swaddling cloth the Christ child was wrapped in. It is a symbolic way of including the true spiritual meaning of Christmas in the Wigila dinner.

So what was in the Christmas stocking my relatives sent me from Poland? Hay. But not just any hay! They drove 5 hours to my ancestral village to get me hay from the fields there to place on my own dinner table for my Wigilia dinner. Is that not one of the most touching Christmas stocking stories you've ever heard?

Here is a picture of my Christmas stocking from Poland with the hay sticking out.

And here is a picture of my dining room table with the hay on it, and then set with a white lace table cloth.

The elegant white and gold table runner was another gift from my relatives in Poland.

Each Christmas Eve as I set my dinner table I look forward to opening up my stocking from Poland and smelling the sweet scent of the hay from the fields my ancestors worked. The scent isn't as strong as it used to be but it's still there (the stocking is 5 years old now). From their fields to my house. Heaven's scent.

[The Advent calendar number graphic used in this post was created by NicNic at the NBK blog.]

Monday, December 17, 2007

In Church at Christmas

I don't remember a lot about attending church at Christmas when I was a child. I'm absolutely positively certain that I did because no good Catholic would miss going to Mass at Christmas. And my family definitely fell into the category of "good Catholics". It would've been a mass on Christmas morning that I attended because children were not allowed to attend the midnight mass until 14 years of age. But like a lot of kids, going to church at Christmas was kinda boring for me. It was so anticlimactic compared to all the other holiday excitement. About the only thing I can remember fondly about going to Mass at Christmas was singing Christmas carols.

Our church was small and very, very, plain. It was initially built with the idea that it would become the gymnasium for the parish's grade school when the parish grew enough to need a bigger church. Only we never got the bigger church. We didn't have stained glass windows, there weren't many statues, there were very few decorations of any sort. It was a large parish for such a small church building and most of the room was taken up with pews. So when it came time for holiday decorating there wasn't much room to decorate. I remember one artificial Christmas tree near the front altar, green wreaths with red bows by each of the stations of the cross, and a nativity scene that wasn't all that impressive. And that's it. Pretty common for suburban Catholic churches in our area.

Contrast that with my current parish. Sweetest Heart of Mary Catholic Church is the largest church in the archdiocese of Detroit. It was built by polish immigrants who could only be classified as "great Catholics" in terms of their commitment and dedication to the church. The church is massive. Built in 1892, it is truly a thing of beauty. With award winning stained glass windows that soar over 60 feet in the air, a main altar that's two stories high and detailed with gold leaf, over 30 life-size statues, and 3-D stations of the cross... it really doesn't need anything more to decorate it. But the parishioners go all out to decorate this beautiful church for Christmas just the same.

Each year at the beginning of December the pastor puts out a call for all able hands to come decorate the church for Christmas. One day is selected (on a weekend close to Christmas) and everyone is asked to come early. Lunch is provided because the decorating is an all day affair. In addition to putting up a large and beautiful nativity scene, there are 30 Christmas trees put up, about 50 poinsettia plants to set out, and a myriad of other decorations put in place. The decorations stay up until Candlemas, on February 2nd.

Midnight Mass on Christmas (Pasterka) at Sweetest Heart of Mary church is the most moving and spiritual religious service I have ever attended. It begins about 11:00 PM when the organist and choir begin singing a variety of Christmas songs in both Polish and English. The church is dimly lit until just before the stroke of midnight when it goes dark. The pastor and his procession of attendants lineup for their entrance. As they begin to make their way down the long main aisle of the church the overhead lights begin to come on one by one from the back of the church to the front. And then all the lights of the Christmas trees and the nativity burst with color… almost like a fireworks show with a finale at the end!

The mass is very traditional. It's in English, but almost all the music sung is in Polish with a few English carols thrown in. The church is always packed with people who are dressed in their best holiday attire. There are very few children in attendance due to the late hour.

As I sit in the pew, surrounded by my family, I take in all of the grandeur of the church and the beautiful Christmas decorations. I think of both my maternal and paternal grandparents who were married in this church when they were new immigrants to America. I reflect on what it must've been like for them to be celebrating Christmas so far from their loved ones back in Poland. I think of how they must have worried about their family members during the Christmases of WWI. And I marvel at the strength and courage it took for them to make a life for themselves here in Detroit. Then I pray for the souls of my ancestors who went before me, those who attended this church as well as those back in Poland. If there's any one physical place that connects me with my ancestors, this is it for me.

As I sing the Polish carols I imagine my ancestors singing the very same carols. As I sit in the pew I wonder if my ancestors sat in that very same pew. As the tears well up in my eyes, I wonder how many tears they cried in this very same church. And as the joy of Christmas fills my heart I imagine how it filled theirs as well.

Photos can't capture the grandeur of this church but maybe you can get an idea of it from my pics. The first ones with the warm golden glow were taken at Mass on Christmas. The later ones (in daylight) were taken on Candlemas Day. The last 4 are of the stained glass windows. They are truly magnificent and I'm sorry that I have no way for you to experience them beside these measly photos.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Christmas Photography

Need a little creative inspiration for photographing Christmas lights? Check out this blog for a really cool series of photos that will help you discover new ways to photograph Christmas lights...

This photo is my favorite!

Winter Blast

We've gotten hit with a whopper snow storm. "One for the record books", the local meteorologists are telling us. Our area is predicted to receive 9-12 inches by the time the storm ends late this afternoon.

I snapped a couple quick pics of my neighborhood this morning. I'd say we have 6-7 inches so far although I haven't actually gone out to measure.

If you're getting hit by this snow storm too maybe you'd prefer to stay home and do your Christmas shopping :-) Here's what you need to know...

Below are the holiday ordering cutoff dates for U.S. shipping of items shipped from and sold by the Genealogy and More Store for delivery on or before December 24th.

  • Sunday, December 16th – Gift Cards sent by mail (e-mail gift cards can be sent immediately at any time)
  • Monday, December 17th – Free Super Saver Shipping (on qualified orders over $25)
  • Tuesday, December 18th – Standard Shipping
  • Wednesday, December 19th – Two-Day Shipping (Free with Amazon Prime, Last full day to order)
  • Thursday, December 20th – Two-Day Shipping (Free with Amazon Prime, Order as late as 3pm PT, but varies by item)
  • Friday, December 21st – One-Day Shipping ($3.99 per item with Amazon Prime, Last full day to order)
  • Saturday, December 22nd – Two-Day Shipping ($3.99 per item with Amazon Prime; Order as late as 3pm PT, but varies by item)
Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!

Christmas At My Elementary School

When I think back to Christmases when I was a child I remember a time when we didn't have to be politically correct about everything. The city I grew up in, Dearborn Michigan, had a homogeneous population. Virtually everyone in the city was white, blue collar, and Christian. No one worried about offending anybody else using terms with a religious connotation. There were no allowances made for anyone who was " different", because nobody was different.

I attended the public school closest to my house. At school, we had "Christmas parties" and sang in "Christmas recitals". I remember having discussions about the various names that Santa Claus went by in other countries but we never talked about December holidays for those of other religious faiths such as Hanukkah.

In art class we made angels along with our snowflakes and wreaths. In music class we sang Hark the Herald Angels Sing along with Jingle Bells. In fact, it wasn't until I was in the upper elementary grades that I even realized that symbols of Christmas fell into two categories, religious and secular. For me they were all tied together.

In my elementary school we had French class as a part of our regular instruction. I remember talking about Pere Noel and how children in France celebrated Christmas. We also learned to play musical instruments in the 4th, 5th, and 6th grades. I played violin and I remember that the Christmas concert was always my favorite. It was much easier to play music that you recognized and Christmas carols were very recognizable.

Probably my happiest and most vivid school memory of Christmas time would have to be singing Christmas songs in our vocal music class. I remember standing on the risers and looking out the big windows of the room to see big fluffy snowflakes falling. The song I enjoyed singing the most was Up On the House Top. It was so fun to imagine Santa Claus coming while watching the snow fly. I was so excited about Christmas coming!

Here's a picture of the front of my elementary school. The music room was on the main floor just inside the big bay windows behind the pine tree (inside the second floor bay windows was the library). This is a current photograph and it appears that a good many of the windows have been covered up (top 2/3 of each window), probably for energy savings. They weren't covered back in my day. The music room and library were the sunniest rooms in the school.

[The Advent calendar number graphic used in this post was created by NicNic at the NBK blog.]

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Welcoming The New Millennium

I wouldn't go so far as to say I was worried about the approach of the new millennium, but I was definitely concerned. With all the media hype about the Y2 K issues affecting computers and computer aided devices the world over, how could I not be? I am a techie girl, after all. And the thought of losing the use of my technology was akin to losing the use of my right arm. Not to mention my concern over the possibility of losing my money if the banks' computers went kaflewy and couldn't find my account!

Living in a cold weather climate, I was also concerned about staying warm. If the power grid went down over a large area, where would we go to be warm? I hate to be cold!

For my own peace of mind I insisted on buying a generator. I was pretty sure we could stay connected to the media and stay warm if we had one. My husband agreed and took care of purchasing one large enough to meet our needs. That put my mind at ease.

We don't always celebrate New Year's with a party but I thought it would be a good idea to host one for New Year's Eve 1999 so that we could stay close to home in the event that something dire did happen. We invited a few of our neighbors and friends to the party and I preceded to plan for a great evening of fun.

I had a large wall mural made up with the names of everyone attending the party, to use as a backdrop for pictures. I bought one of those time capsule kits that were heavily advertised at the time so that we could record our reflections and projections on the verge of the New Millennium. Of course I bought lots of party hats, noisemakers, confetti, food and champagne as well. And every well dressed Doberman needs a tuxedo for New Year's Eve so I bought my dog one of those too.

And since there's nothing like live entertainment at a good party, I hired my daughter and two of her friends to play for us.

Being my mother's daughter, I like to save mementos. So I went out and bought a few things to remind me of the year 2000. I bought a rhinestone pin, a scarf, a water globe, and a dessert plate. Friends and relatives also gifted me with a picture frame. So I have quite a few keepsakes kicking around to remind me of the turn of the century and millennium.

Like a lot of other people I watched CNN on and off throughout New Year's Eve day to see how events around the world were unfolding. I thought the celebrations were spectacular and with each one I became more reassured that my house wouldn't go dark and cold at the stroke of midnight. We had about 25 people at the party that evening and everyone was in good spirits. We had a wonderful time together and I have very happy memories of ringing in the New Year 2000.

Oh, and the time capsule is still sitting in the cupboard in my laundry room. I told everyone I would keep it until the year 2025 and then I would make every attempt to return each person's reflections and projections to them so that they could look back and remember the night we rang in the New Millennium together.


I've been debating what to write about for this grab bag edition of the Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories. I had several possibilities in mind but couldn't settle on one of them. And then footnoteMaven issued a challenge to blog our favorite Christmas carol and in that instant I knew just what I wanted to write! (Great timing fM!)

As memories go, this isn't from long ago during my childhood. The memories I have of kolędy (pronounced, coal-EN-deh; it is the Polish word for "Christmas Carols", in the plural form) are from the last 7-8 years. You might think that I was raised in an ethnically Polish neighborhood and attended a Polish church all my life given how much I write about things Polish, but that is not the case. The neighborhood I grew up in was as diverse as an all-white, blue-collar neighborhood could be. In fact, there wasn't another Pol-Am family on my block until I was in middle school. Then one more moved in when I was in high school.

The church our family attended had no ethnic affiliation. In all the years I attended Mass there, we never had a Polish priest or sang a Polish carol. I don't remember my mom ever singing any Polish carols (she used to like to sing and hum when she was baking) even though, as I later learned, she knew the words to them all by heart. I actually discovered and embraced my Polish heritage as a direct result of my genealogy research, which I started only 10 years ago.

Without going through a whole time line of my genealogy research, let's just say that a couple years into it I began searching for living relatives in Poland (more details to come in a post next month). I was successful at finding some and they have enriched not only my knowledge of my family's history but my knowledge of Polish culture as well. We exchanged Christmas gifts for a few years and one of the first gifts they sent me was a couple CDs of kolędy.

Polish carols, besides being beautiful to listen to, have a whole tradition that goes along with them. Not only do people sing them, but they act them out too. There are four different Polish caroling traditions, szopki and Herody are visual reenactments of the birth of Christ. Gwiazdory is caroling with a star where one of the carolers carries a star on a pole lit from within by a candle. And turon is the oldest form of caroling in Poland and it involves having one of the group dressing up as a wooly beast. This last one involves antics and frivolity.

The best description of the caroling tradition I could find is this (from the site):

KOLEDNICY (Polish carolers) could best be described as caroler-masqueraders. One carries a large illuminated star on a pole, another comes carrying a Christmas crib and the others are dressed as King Herod, Death, an Angel, Devil, soldier, priest, peasant, beggar, Gypsy and/or Jew (or couples). As the season wears on, the religious figures disappear and a wild ox [wooly beast], bear and stork are often added.
The "season" referred to is the caroling season. It starts with Midnight Mass on Christmas and continues through to January 6th. (That's not the end of the Polish Christmas season though. It continues until Candlemas on February 2nd.)

Here's my favorite Polish carol, Dzisiaj w Betlejem.

Dzisiaj w Betlejem (In David's City)

Dzisiaj w Betlejem, dzisaij w Betlejem wesoła nowina.
że Panna czysta, że Panna czysta porodzila Syna.
(In David's City, in David's City, joyful is the story.
The Son of God, the Son of God, born of Virgin Mary.)

Chrystus się rodzi, nas oswobodzi, Anieli grają, króle witają.
Pasterze śpiewają, bydlęta klękają cuda, cuda oglaszają.
(Born is the Savior, born our Redeemer. Angels a'playing, Kings homage paying;
Heav'n an' all creation, kneel in adoration; Lo, what wonders do they acclaim!)

Maryja Panna, Maryja Panna Dzieciątko piastuje.
I Józef święty, i Józef święty ono pielęgnuje.
(The Virgin Mary, the Virgin Mary, rocks her infant Savior.
As noble Joseph, as noble Joseph, ponders this new wonder.)

Chrystus się rodzi, nas oswobodzi, Anieli grają, króle witają.
Pasterze śpiewają, bydlęta klękają cuda, cuda oglaszają.
(Born is the Savior, born our Redeemer. Angels a'playing, Kings homage paying;
Heav'n an' all creation, kneel in adoration; Lo, what wonders do they acclaim!)

Chociaż w stajenczce, shociaż w stajenczce Panna Syna rodzi,
Przecież On wkrótce, przecież On wkrótce, ludzi oswobodzi.
(Come, let us join in, come let us join in, raising grateful voices. For this great mystr'y, for this great mystr'y Jesus, comes to save us.)

Chrystus się rodzi, nas oswobodzi, Anieli grają, króle witają.
Pasterze śpiewają, bydlęta klękają cuda, cuda oglaszają.
(Born is the Savior, born our Redeemer. Angels a'playing, Kings homage paying;
Heav'n an' all creation, kneel in adoration; Lo, what wonders do they acclaim!)

The English version is not a literal translation but an English adaptation done by Rev. Czesław Michal Krysa, S.L.D. in his book, A Polish Christmas Eve; Traditions and Recipes, Decorations and Song, copyright 1998 by CWB Press of Lewiston, NY.

Here are a couple photos taken at my cousin's house in Brzeg, Poland. You can see the carolers dressed up in common caroling attire.

So, what does all this have to do with my memories? I remember very fondly sitting in the Polish church I now attend for Midnight Mass on Christmas with my immediate family, my mom, and my brother and sister in law, singing these songs as best we could. For my mom, they brought back memories of being in the choir of her church in the west side Polish neighborhood of Detroit where she grew up. The rest of us mangled the words as you would expect of non-Polish speakers. We chuckled as we struggled to pronounce the words that didn't come naturally to us. But our spirits were high!

[The Advent calendar number graphic used in this post was created by NicNic at the NBK blog.]

Friday, December 14, 2007

I Love Fruitcake!

I'm a fruitcake fan. I can't say that I've enjoyed every piece of fruitcake I've ever tried but I have enjoyed most. Which is my favorite? My mother's of course!

When I was a child there was always fruitcake at Christmas. My dad and my brothers and I all liked fruitcake. I wasn't fond of the nuts and would pick those out. But I loved everything else about fruitcake.

I don't remember ever helping my mother to make fruitcake though I do remember watching her do it. She would always make her holiday fruitcake in October then wrap it in foil and a plastic bag. Finally, she would store it in the attic where it would stay cool until Christmas. My mother said you had to let the fruitcake "age" so that the flavors would blend. My understanding is that the best fruitcakes are aged a couple months to a year. The reason fruitcake doesn't rot while it's aging is because of the low moisture content in it. (Or at least that's what I've heard ;-)

My mom's recipe for fruitcake includes 2 cups of sour cream, so the batter is rich, dense, and creamy. She always liked to use larger pieces of fruit and ground her nuts coarsely. She never bothered to decorate the top of the fruitcake like some folks do. She never iced it either. I know that many fruit cake recipes call for wrapping the cake in cloth soaked in wine or brandy. My mom certainly didn't have anything against spirits but I don't remember her ever using cloth soaked in alcohol to wrap her cakes.

When all of us kids were still living at home my mom used to make one big fruitcake (6 lbs). She would bake it in a ring pan, the kind often used to make angel food cake. After my brothers and I moved out of the house she would make 3, 2-pound loaves using standard loaf pans. Each of my brothers got to take a loaf home with them.

When it came time to serve the fruitcake (on Christmas Eve sometime after dinner), my mom would simply take it out of its wrapping and slice it. How we loved it!

I tried my hand at making my mom's fruitcake this year. I didn't get around to making it until the first week in November so it hasn't aged very long. It's my first try at it... which is my way of saying it didn't come out as good as mom's. I'm thinking I over-beat the batter because the cake didn't rise as much as I expected. It doesn't seem like there's enough fruit in it. And it's more crumbly than I remembered too. But it tastes pretty much like I remember it!

Who wants to try a piece? Of course you'll have to bake it yourself...

[The Advent calendar number graphic used in this post was created by NicNic at the NBK blog.
The kit I used for creating the scrapbook page for the recipe was done by her too. Thanks NicNic!]