Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — New Year’s Memories

Have you made your New Year’s Eve plans yet? For many of us growing up, we either watched our parents go out to parties at the homes of friends or at one of the local restaurants that hosted New Year’s Eve celebrations. I remember many years where family gathered at our home, and much like today, we watched the ball drop in Times Square. My earliest memory of this was the year 1960–little did we know what a momentous decade this would be! Instead of a “Rockin’ New Year’s Eve, it was the “champagne music” of Guy Lombardo and the Royal Canadians that would accompany our celebrations on TV.

"Guy Lombardo" by Gottlieb, William P., 1917-, photographer.

“Guy Lombardo” by Gottlieb, William P., 1917-, photographer.

New Year’s Eve was one of those rare times us kids would get a taste of alcohol — maybe a weak highball or a taste of champagne — but we were included in the celebration! My wife remembers spaghetti with calamari (squid). As a kid, one of her uncles told her she didn’t need to swallow them, they walked down on their own!

New Year’s Day would be parades, pork and sauerkraut, and football. As a child, my wife thought it was a rule that you had to watch the New Year’s parades. I always scratched my head at the extravagant waste of all those flowers on the Rose Parade floats while being amazed at the ingenious things the float-builders made out of them.

In Youngstown, the staple dish of New Year’s celebrations (at least in both my and my wife’s homes) was some form of pork and sauerkraut. Among the German and Slavic peoples who settled in Youngstown, eating pork and sauerkraut was thought to bring you good luck and prosperity in the coming year. According to this Akron-Beacon Journal article, the Pennsylvania Dutch preferred pork because pigs never look back when foraging for their food. Having a hog in the larder meant you would eat for the winter. Cabbage was harvested in the fall and the best way to put it up was as sauerkraut which took 6-8 weeks to brine, meaning it was ready around New Year’s.

Of course there was always football, and the TV was on all day with the Sugar, Cotton and Rose Bowls, among others. Often we were rooting for the Buckeyes to win the Rose Bowl, just as we will be this New Year’s evening in the Sugar Bowl playoff game. The punch that ended Woody Hayes’ career was actually not on New Year’s Day but on December 29, 1978 in the Gator Bowl against Clemson when he slugged Charlie Bauman who had intercepted an Art Schlicter pass and was knocked out of bounds.

Ceremonial Crucifix used in blessing of houses (c)2014 Robert C Trube

Ceremonial Crucifix used in blessing of homes (c)2014 Robert C Trube

Youngstown’s eastern and southern European population was heavily Catholic and one of the traditions that was important in my wife’s home and many from this background was the blessing of homes. This occurred traditionally on Ephiphany, January 6 but because it took time for the priests to get around to all the homes in each parish, this could occur sometime between Christmas and January 6 and often right around the beginning of the New Year. My wife still has the ceremonial crucifix that her family used when the priest came to bless their home. At its base was a bottle for holy (or epiphany) water. The candles were lit and the priest would go about each room of the home sprinkling it with holy water and saying prayers. Then, because Epiphany celebrates the arrival of the Magi, the traditional names of the wise men (Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar) or their initials C + M + B would be chalked by the priest over the doorway of the home. These initials also stand for the Latin Christus mansionem benedicat, which means “Christ bless this house.” has a good explanation of this practice with an example of the prayers used.

Since this is my last post on “Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown” for 2014, I want to wish all of you who have followed these posts a Happy and Blessed New Year!


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