Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — The Three “F’s” of Christmas

Nativity edited

Our nativity scene from my wife’s family

This will be my last new “Youngstown” post before Christmas. I thought I would take a few moments to reflect on the three “F’s” that defined Christmas for many of us who grew up in Youngstown: faith, family, and food.

Faith was important in many of our families. It was “the reason for the season.” It was about remembering the birth of Christ. We had Advent calendars in some of our families building our anticipation of Christmas eve and Christmas day. Many of us grew up dressing up as shepherds, wise men, or Joseph or Mary as we retold the story of the nativity. Some of us remember candlelight services concluding in candlelit darkness singing “Silent Night.”My wife remembers midnight masses where at midnight the baby Jesus was placed in the nativity scene at Sts. Cyril and Methodius Church.

Family gatherings were big in Youngstown. On my wife’s side, her father and his brothers all lived in the same part of town (Brownlee Woods and Poland) and the brothers would go from one house to another over the course of the holidays. I remember gatherings at my grandparents as a child with cousins from Texas and a living room full of people gathered around the Christmas tree (after we had gathered around the dining room table). We still have that table and buffet in our home, it having passed from my grandparents to my parents to us. Boy, my grandmother could cook, and I’m reminded of her whenever I see these pieces of furniture.

And that brings me to food, the third big part of any Youngstown Christmas. There were all those cookies  and candies–snowballs and rum balls, bow ties and clothes pins, pizzelles and kolachi, iced sugar cookies and peppermint bark. There was often a big dinner–a ham and sweet potatoes, or roast chicken or turkey and mashed potatoes. The challenge was often saving room for the next family gathering.

Faith, family, and food were important themes not just at Christmas but throughout the year in working class Youngstown. Faith wasn’t something you “wore on your sleeve” in some kind of showy way, but it was always a part of life. Families were hardly perfect, but somehow there for you when the chips were down and at any big life event. And good food (often accompanied with plentiful drink!) marked any celebration.

As I close, I would love to hear your memories of faith, family and food at Christmas. And I want to extend my own wishes that this upcoming holiday will be filled with all of the best for you! Merry Christmas, Youngstown!

12 thoughts on “Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — The Three “F’s” of Christmas

  1. Dear Bob
    Thanks for another post to prompt my memories of Christmases in Y-Town. I agree with the idea of your 3 “F’s”. Beginning with my college years, many family members left the area. Our connections become email and later texts and FaceTime and other modes. I just retired from the faculty at Millersville University and moved to Cincinnati on Monday to be near our daughter, her great husband and a new joy–our first grandchild 7 months old. We will continue our visits to Y-Town to visit with our son and enjoy the delights of the area at Christmas and all year. Wishing everyone in Youngtown and beyond a very Merry Christmas and Happy 2016.
    Michelle

  2. I love your posts, Bob. I am returning to Youngstown for a death in the family. Christmas will be muted this year for us. You are so right about how it was growing up in our home town. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

  3. Pingback: Growing Up in Working Class Youngstown — The Top 10 | Bob on Books

  4. On “food at Christmas”…..it has always been a wonder to me how often Italians ate macaronis (not pasta) each week and NEVER got sick of it. But for Christmas Eve, it was linguini with anchovie sauce (no meat before midnight in those days)….and the fish – smelts, bacala with sauce. Also Krisp, pronounced “kreesp” ..fried bread dough with sugar on them. Then Christmas day was cavatelli (home made by mom), meatballs and brigiole. The next day we would have leftovers. Our regular schedule was “ronis” on Thurs and Sundays!….a different kind each time. How I loved those big rigatonis we used to be able to buy. And how I miss mom’s sauce made with canned tomatoes from our garden.

  5. Multiple visits with family. 7 fishes of Christmas Eve at one house and oli oils with lots of garlic at the next. And always pasta Christmas Day. Usually home made ravioli. Both meat and cheese. Tons of Christmas cookies and a lot of love.

  6. Bob, What a wonderful post for Christmas! Nothing is more important then Faith, Family & of course the food that brings us together!
    As a young child in the 1950’s I always remembered the importance of our Christmas tradition of going to midnight Mass at our ethnic church, St. John the Baptist Slovak Church, and then the traditional ethnic foods we had. Since my Mother was Croatian we had the foods that were familiar to her families traditions. Although my Father’s Slovak tradition of Vilija is wonderful and brings the faith beliefs together with the food that is prepared. Christmas Day was not only about Santa coming but getting together at our Baba & Deda’s to visit and see all of our cousins and yes to share in the delicious foods prepared by my Baba!
    Yes Faith, Family & Food that’/ what the Holiday’s are all about…especially if you grew up in Youngstown!
    Thank you for reminding us, Merry Christmas!

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