There were lots of different ways families in Youngstown worked out Christmas Eve and Day, most of which revolved around church. And every one of us thinks ours is best (family pride is a high value in Youngstown!). Some families put their trees up on Christmas eve (we didn’t). Some had special foods, usually from their particular ethnic heritage.
I grew up in a home where we attended early evening Candlelight services. Christmas eve dinner was often a light affair because we had to leave for church early. There would be more snacks at our house or a relative’s later. Often, dad would grill up some of his favorite sandwiches. It was always a priority to get to church so you could find a parking space and get your seat.
As a kid, I remember being in Nativity plays. I got to be Joseph one year, which I thought was pretty cool. Most of the time, I was a shepherd. As I grew older, I think the thing that meant the most was the candle-lighting usually as we sang “Silent Night”. All the church lights would be dimmed and the only light was from candles. Often we would sing “What Child is This?” and there was that moment when you realized that this holiday wasn’t just about Santa and presents. We were remembering something far more important that night.
Afterwards, we would drive around and look at Christmas lights and either stop at my grandparents or return home. We usually would have a treat, and then up to bed before Santa came. When I was young, i would watch for the glow of Rudolph’s nose on the blinds in my room until I fell asleep!
My wife grew up in a home that celebrated Midnight Mass at St Cyril and Methodius Church, across town from where she lived. Dinner for her family was a much more elaborate affair which began with oplatki bread, this wafer thin bread you got from the church with imprints on it. I remember coming one time for dinner when we were dating and there was no end to the food, it seemed. Midnight was a good ways off and you needed to be well-fortified. Of course there were kolachi and other baked goods. My wife’s one memory of Midnight Mass was that at midnight the baby Jesus was put in the manger in the church’s nativity scene.
Neither of our families opened presents on Christmas eve, even though we wanted to. When I was young, I would sneak downstairs early to find the Christmas tree already lit and this wondrous array of presents that had appeared during the night. But we had to wait until mom came down to open them and were not allowed to disturb her. My favorite present was the year I received a model raceway. We set it up down in our basement and I added more and more track and cars and had this elaborate layout. Some of my guy friends would come over and we would race each other for hours, or “work” on our cars. My wife’s favorite gift was not the doll she is holding in the picture but a doll house that she loved decorating (an artist even then!).
Of course there were rounds of visiting with all the relatives. My wife’s father had three brothers and they would go from house to house over the holidays. When my grandmother Trube was living, we often had Christmas day dinner there. It was really fun the year my cousins from Texas visited. In later years, we hosted Christmas and my grandfather Scott would come and tell all the stories we already knew (but they were good stories told well).
Did your family have any special Christmas Eve and Day traditions? What were your best memories?