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!