Thursday, December 31, 2009

Ten in '10

Yesterday, I posted about my Top Ten Genealogical Successes for 2009. Today, following in the footsteps of other fellow Geneabloggers, I'm posting ten genealogy/writing goals I have for 2010.

1. Spend at least 15 minutes per day searching for information on those elusive ancestors in my family tree.

2. Publish a new book.

3. Do whatever it takes to accomplish #2—specifically, must devote a designated amount of time each day to writing.

4. Get organized! (I hate to file—must make an effort to keep the clutter away!).

5. Finally visit Slovakia to connect with relatives and perform research in the Presov archives.

6. Develop several remote/virtual lectures and market them to various groups and organizations.

7. Review options for converting at least two of my books into electronic format to make them available via download for digital readers.

8. Find court documents and newspaper accounts related to the murder of one of my ancestors.

9. Blog more.

10. Expand my freelance writing career.

© 2009, copyright Lisa A. Alzo

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Top 10 Genealogical Moments of 2009

The end of the year is historically a time for reflection. The good and the bad. What goals we accomplished and where we fell just a little short. The challenges and obstacles we faced.

It's also a time for making resolutions or setting goals for the coming year.

I'm still working on my goals for 2010, but as 2009 winds to a close, I find myself thinking about the highlights and accomplishments associated with my genealogical research. I decided to make a list of my ten most memorable moments for this past year.

Lisa's Top Ten Genealogical Moments for 2009:

10. The publication of my 8th and 9th books: Cleveland Czechs and Cleveland Slovaks (Arcadia Publishing) with co-author John Sabol.

9. Gave four talks at the Czechoslovak Genealogical Society International conference in Cleveland in October. I was delighted to have over 130 in attendance for my “Writing Your Family History” workshop. Re-elected to CGSI Board of Directors and named Vice-Chair for the Board.

8. Meeting new genealogical friends at conferences and workshops and through Facebook and GenealogyWise.

7. An invitation to speak at the Polish Genealogical Society of Connecticut and the Northeast for their 25th anniversary event. After the conference I visited New York City and toured Ellis Island (my 3rd visit there) and the Tenement Museum (my first visit) with fellow genealogists.

6. Delivered my first “remote” lecture to the Ontario Genealogical Society Toronto’s Branch in November.

5. Publication of articles in all of the North American print genealogical magazines.

4. Presented for the first time at Family History Expos (Loveland, CO and Sandy, UT) and the Southern California Genealogical Society Jamboree (Burbank, CA).

3. Discovering the circumstances behind the tragic deaths of two ancestors: Michael Sivak (maternal side) and Nicholas Masztiylak (paternal side). I successfully located coroner’s records, obituaries and death records for both men.

2. Learned the correct maiden name for my paternal great-grandmother, Borbola (Barbara) “Manyovszki" ("Manovsky”) and not “Meriorska” as recorded in family documents—further proving that information that’s recorded even in “official” records is not always correct.

And, my number one genealogical moment of 2009:

1. Connecting with an Alzo cousin whom I did not even know existed. She e-mailed me out of the blue and we determined that her grandfather and my grandfather were brothers! We’ve shared documents and photographs and hope to finally meet face to face in 2010 in Slovakia!

I hope that 2010 will bring even more great genealogical finds and successes.

To my fellow Geneabloggers: What were your top ten moments?

© 2009, copyright Lisa A. Alzo

Friday, December 25, 2009

Christmas Greetings

Enjoy this lovely Slovak Christmas postcard I received from a colleague. Radostné Vianoce!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Advent Calendar: December 24, 2009: Christmas Eve

Christmas Eve
How did you, your family or your ancestors spend Christmas Eve?

For Slovaks, Christmas Eve is more solemn than Christmas Day. It is a time for praising God and for being together with family. Here is a blog post from in which I describe how my family celebrated Christmas. Things have changed over the years since my grandparents and parents passed away, but I try to honor the Slovak traditions in my own home to the best of my ability.

Here is a blog post from 2007 in which I describe the Christmas Eve traditions in my family.
Enjoy! Vesele Vianocé! (Merry Christmas!)

[From a previous blog post: Monday, December 24, 2007]

Slovak Christmas Eve

While growing up, I looked forward to Christmas Eve even more so than Christmas Day. Sure, on Christmas, Santa arrived with all the gifts, but it was the day before Christmas that was filled with family celebration, ritual and tradition. For Slovaks, Christmas Eve, known as "Štedrý Vecer" (shtedree vecher), is traditionally is the biggest annual event in the home, where the entire family gathers for the traditional Slovak meal called the Vilija/Vilia (vee-lee-yah). The term comes from the Latin "vigilia" or "night watch." The name implies the joyful anticipation in waiting for the arrival of the Christ child.

My Slovak grandma (Baba) worked tirelessly to carry out the traditions of her heritage. In the Slovak culture, food is richly entwined with tradition and religious teachings, especially for Christmas, when special dishes are prepared and rituals observed.

Our family would gather each year on Christmas Eve at my Grandma Figlar's house to celebrate the Vilia Supper. It was a meatless meal (to honor the Christian practice of fasting). During this supper, we ate foods like mushroom soup, oplatky (Christmas wafers) with honey, bobalky, perfectly baked little balls of dough browned in butter and mixed with sauerkraut, and pirohi, ravioli-like pillows of dough filled with cabbage, cottage cheese, potato, or prunes. All of these recipes are included in my book, Baba’s Kitchen: Slovak & Rusyn Family Recipes and Traditions (Gateway Press, $11.95).

Carrying on the tradition, today I celebrated the Vilia. I used a few modern shortcuts--ordering the pirohi online from Polish Pierogie, and using frozen white bread dough to make bobalky instead of my grandmother's recipe. But did make homemade mushroom soup. So, I still managed to have most of the traditional foods, which I shared with my husband (who is Irish and not Slovak but enjoys the foods anyway). I hope that my grandmother and mother are not too disappointed that I did not make everything from scratch, but my over-committed schedule just did not leave me any time to cook this year.

Time and distance, and the passing of loved ones have prevented the large family gatherings of we used to have, but nothing will replace the special memories of those Christmas Eves at Grandma's house, and in later years, my own home, with my mother at the helm.

Advent Calendar: December 23,, 2009: Christmas Sweetheart Memories

Christmas Sweetheart Memories
Do you have a special memory of a first Christmas present from a sweetheart? How did you spend your first Christmas together? Any Christmas engagements or weddings among your ancestors?

I honestly can't remember my first Christmas present from a sweetheart. I cherish all of the presents my husband has given me over the years--jewelry, perfume, candies, favorite CDs and DVDs and other thoughtful gifts. We have an agreement not to buy each other expensive items. Usually we get one "nice" item that is for the both of us each Christmas, and then we just exchange small gifts on Christmas Day. Just being together is the best gift of all.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Advent Calendar: December 22,, 2009: Christmas and Deceased Relatives

Christmas and Deceased Relatives
Did your family visit the cemetery at Christmas? How did your family honor deceased family members at Christmas?

Yes, we would visit the cemetery on Christmas Day. We had to go to two different cemeteries because my mother's parents were buried in a different cemetery than my father's parents. We would always put a wreath on the grave of a deceased ancestor. Also, we would contribute for flowers to be put on the altar at church in memory of deceased loved ones.

Advent Calendar: December 21,, 2009: Christmas Music

Christmas Music
What songs did your family listen to during Christmas? Did you ever go caroling? Did you have a favorite song?

My family listened to all of the traditional Christmas carols--religious and secular, as well as Slovak versions of Christmas hymns. I used to go caroling as part of school activities. I can't carry a tune to save my life so I am not a big caroler, but I love to listen to Christmas music.

My favorite song is "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing," which I posted as my blog carol for this year (thanks to Footnote Maven for organizing the activity). But, there are two other songs I always enjoy at Christmas that bring back special memories of my mother. Mom always liked "Feliz Navidad" by Jose Feliciano--I think because it was so happy and festive.

My mother's favorite song, however, was "Oh, Holy Night," as sung by the late Luciano Pavarotti--she always thought his version was simply beautiful, and I agree.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Advent Calendar: December 20,, 2009: Religious Services

Religious Services
Did your family attend religious services during the Christmas season? What were the customs and traditions involved?

Going to church was always a part of our Christmas celebration. Our church, Holy Trinity Roman Catholic church, was branded the "Slovak parish" because it was established by Slovak immigrants, and usually had a pastor who was of Slovak heritage. My paternal grandfather was very active in the church.

When I was very young we would attend the early mass (4 p.m.). Occasionally, we would go to mass on Christmas Day, but most of the time we went to midnight mass. The church was always beautifully decorated with poinsettias and candles and the manger. I always enjoyed the carols and at our church the choir also sang several Christmas carols in Slovak, which was a very special tribute to the Slovak heritage.

I still prefer to attend midnight mass--although it is no longer held at midnight--usually 10 p.m. at most of the churches in our area. I still enjoy listening to carols but I really do miss the Slovak ones as in my home parish. Fortunately, I inherited an album (yes a 33 1/3 RPM for those of you old enough to remember) from my mother that has both English and Slovak versions of Christmas hymns. It was recorded at another Slovak parish in Pittsburgh. I play it every Christmas Eve. I also have converted it to digital format so I can listen to it on CD or my computer/iPod.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Advent Calendar: December 19,, 2009: Christmas Shopping

Christmas Shopping
How did your family handle Christmas Shopping? Did anyone finish early or did anyone start on Christmas Eve?

My mother was the Christmas shopper. I remember that she would start early and go on all day shopping adventures with her sister (my aunt) Helen. When I became an adult I would occasionally join them. We'd shop for hours, have a nice lunch--good times.

I must admit that since my mother passed away many years ago, the joy of going Christmas shopping for me is gone too. I don't like large crowds or rude and pushy people. So, if I have to go to a "brick and mortar" store to do any holiday shopping, I always start early. This year I did 95% of my shopping online, which was so nice. A few clicks of the mouse and I was done!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Advent Calendar: December 18, 2009: Christmas Stockings

Christmas Stockings
Did you have one? Where did you hang it? What did you get in it? Do you have any Christmas stockings used by your ancestors? 

I have always had a Christmas stocking.  I've had two special stockings since I was a young girl--those my next door neighbor crocheted for me. 

We did not have a fireplace in my childhood home so I hung my stocking on the banister in the living room. Santa would leave special little gifts--a pair of socks or mittens, an ornament for the tree (usually a koala bear ornament), a yo-yo or some other fun little game, candy, and always a few dollars.

I have a fireplace in my current home and those stockings are hanging above it right now! 

And I sure hope Santa intends to fill them this year! :-)

Blog Caroling: Hark! The Herald Angels Sing: Peanuts Gang Version (Vince Guaraldi)

Fellow blogger FootnoteMaven has once again put forth the challenge to other bloggers to blog their favorite Christmas carols. This is the first time I've participated, but I think it is a wonderful tradition.

I'm a bit behind - the invitation said to blog the carol on December 16th - but better late than never!

Hark! The Herald Angels Sing

I have chosen my favorite carol, Hark! The Herald Angels Sing. The carol is written by Charles Wesley, the brother of John Wesley, an early leader of the Methodist church. With its numerous scriptural references, the carol speaks of the mystery of the incarnation of Christ.

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will to men.
Luke 2:13-14

The tune that's almost always used today was composed by Felix Mendelssohn in 1840, for his cantata Festgesang, written to commemorate Johann Gutenberg and his invention of the printing press.

For this "blog carol" I am sharing one of my favorite versions of Hark! The Herald Angels Sing--the one sung by the whole Peanuts gang at the end of Charles Schultz' animated Christmas special A Charlie Brown Christmas.

Hark! the herald angels sing,
"Glory to the new-born King;
Peace on earth and mercy mild,
God and sinners reconciled!"
Joyful, all ye nations, rise.
Join the triumph of the skies.
With th' angelic hosts proclaim
"Christ is born in Bethlehem!"
Hark! the herald angels sing,
Glory to the new-born King!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Advent Calendar: December 17, 2009: Grab Bag: Cookies for Santa...and Carrots Too!

Grab Bag
Author’s choice. Please post from a topic that helps you remember Christmases past!

One of my favorite Christmas memories is putting out cookies and milk for Santa Claus. My mother would help me. We didn't have a chimney so I put the cookies and milk on a small table by our tree. But, I didn't stop there. I asked my mom "What about the reindeer?" So every year we would fill a bucket of water and leave a few carrots out for Santa's reindeer (I didn't know if reindeer even ate carrots--still don't!), but it seemed like the appropriate snack. And when I woke up on Christmas morning and saw Santa ate the cookies and drank the milk I left for him, I'd rush to the front porch window and look out to see if the carrots and water were also gone. They always were!

I guess I was thinking creatively even as as a child!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Advent Calendar: December 16,, 2009: Christmas at School

Christmas at School
What did you or your ancestors do to celebrate Christmas at school? Were you ever in a Christmas Pageant?

Having attended Catholic school, we always had a Christmas pageant. One of them I particularly remember was during the third grade. I played an angel. My Aunt Helen made my costume for me. I had the big gold wings, long white robe and halo.

I don't have any musical or acting talent so these pageants were never really my thing. But we all thought it was great to miss a Math or Science class now and then to practice for the pageant.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Advent Calendar: December 15, 2009: Holiday Happenings

The Holiday Happenings!
Often times December to mid-January birthdays and anniversaries get over shadowed by the Christmas/Hanukkah/New Year holidays. So we're going to shine a spotlight on those family members and ancestors this time around. Select one or more December to mid-January birthdays and/or anniversaries on your family tree. Write a short tribute to or memory of those birthday guys and gals and write a toast to the anniversary couples.

There are a number of birthday/anniversary events in my family in December and January.  It's difficult to pick just one person or couple to feature.  So, I will just say Happy Birthday and Happy Anniversary to all!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Advent Calendar: December 14,, 2009: Fruitcake - Friend or Foe?

Fruitcake – Friend or Foe?

Did you like fruitcake? Did your family receive fruitcakes? Have you ever re-gifted fruitcake? Have you ever devised creative uses for fruitcake?
(Note: you can also post about a "fruitcake ancestor" and use it for Madness Monday!)

I don't remember fruit cake being a big food item or gift in our family. My father liked to eat fruit cake, but I have never been that crazy about it myself. Yes, I re-gifted a fruitcake: to my father.

Fruitcake ancestors? That's another story. Let's not go there.

Advent Calendar: December 13,, 2009: Holiday Travel

Holiday Travel
Did you or your ancestors travel anywhere for Christmas? How did you travel and who traveled with you? Do you remember any special trips?

Until I was in college I never had to travel at Christmas because most of my family lived close by. We spent most holidays at my grandparents' house and they lived just a few blocks away. After college, I lived in New Jersey for a year and a half and missed two Christmases at home, but one of those years my parents came to visit me. Then for the next four years I lived back at home while going to graduate school so did not have to travel to see my family. In 1995, I moved to New York but went back to Pittsburgh nearly every year to spend Christmas with my parents and extended family. Now that my parents have passed away I am content to spend Christmas at home with my husband. Sure, I miss the old times--lots of great memories--but I prefer not to have to travel at the holidays so it's nice to just relax and enjoy the time off.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Advent Calendar: December 12,, 2009: Charitable/Volunteer Work

December 12 - Charitable/Volunteer Work
Did your family ever volunteer with a charity such as a soup kitchen, homeless or battered women’s shelter during the holidays? Or perhaps were your ancestors involved with church groups that assisted others during the holiday?

We did not specifically do any charity work during the holidays. My mother would give a donation every year to Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh and the Salvation Army. They would take up a collection at school for food items. When I was in college our sorority would do various service projects in the local community before the holiday break. I've also made donations to various toy and food drives in the community where I now live.

Advent Calendar: December 11 2009: Other Traditions

Other Traditions

Did your family or friends also celebrate other traditions during the holidays such as Hanukkah or Kwanzaa? Did your immigrant ancestors have holiday traditions from their native country which they retained or perhaps abandoned?

Except for the "American" traditions of Santa Claus, baking cookies, giving gifts, etc., my family did not celebrate any others. My ancestry is Slovak and Christmas is a very holy time for the Slovak people. I will defer my post on the Slovak Christmas traditions until December 24th.

Advent Calendar: December 10, 2009: Christmas Gifts

Christmas Gifts

What were your favorite gifts, both to receive and to give? Are there specific gift-giving traditions among your family or ancestors?

I pretty much liked all the gifts I received at Christmas. "Santa" was always very generous to me. Some of my favorite gifts from childhood included anything "Barbie"; my Easy-Bake Oven and Washer, dolls, and board games and an actual Santa doll (I still have him!)

When I became a young adult the gifts changed of course. I wo
uld always receive a koala bear ornament and a "daughter" ornament, a new pair of pajamas or nightgown, and then whatever was on my "list" that year.

My favorite gifts to give were "Mom and Dad" ornaments for my parents each year. I bought my mother a stereo one year so she could play her old 33
rpm albums. My father was not one to get excited over gifts--and always said wrapping paper and greeting cards were "a waste of money." He did not like to shop for gifts. He preferred to just give my mother the money to buy what she wanted or give me money so I could buy what I wanted. My parents and I had our own tradition where we would open one gift after we returned home from midnight mass and then open the rest in the morning.

For the extended family, we usually held a Christmas grab bag at our family parties (for those age 16 an older) because there were too many of us and you just could not afford to buy a gift for everyone.

Advent Calendar: December 9, 2009: Grab Bag: The Sadder Side of Christmas

The Sadder Side of Christmas
Author’s choice. Please post from a topic that helps you remember Christmases past!

Unfortunately, not all of my memories of the Christmas season are happy ones or the kind you see advertised on television specials and commercials. Over the years, my family has experienced some sad and tragic moments that inevitably give me pause for reflection amidst the celebration.

My maternal grandmother passed away four days after Christmas in 1984. She was in the hospital during Christmas, which was very sad for all of us because she was the glue in our family--her love and generosity were immeasurable and she passed on the Slovak traditions we all still cherish so much. Although she was very ill, we all believe she held on until after Christmas because she wanted us all to be together and enjoy the day. Christmases were never the same after she passed away.

Then, my father's sister, my Auntie Sr. Camilla, passed away in December 1986 and my father and aunt had to fly to Texas to attend her funeral. She was a Roman Catholic nun and died in the Mother House at Victoria. It was too expensive for all of us to go. Another sad Christmas.

In 1990, my cousin's husband died on Christmas Day. He was in a car accident a couple of weeks before Christmas. This was a very difficult time for the family.

Finally, in 1992, my father suffered a stroke on Christmas Day. He was very lucky because he survived and save for minor coordination issues and loss of his peripheral vision on one side, made a full recovery. I will never forget how empty I felt, and how my mother and I took turns comforting one another in the emergency room that Christmas Day. I always think about Dad on Christmas, and, this year will be the fourth one without him. Hard to believe.

So, it's difficult to be 100% joyful at Christmas, and experiencing the losses somehow keeps me tempered when it comes to the whole celebration aspect, but it also makes me appreciate my family so much more and truly remember what the season is really supposed to be about and not focus too much on the gifts, the parties, the trees, etc.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Advent Calendar: December 8, 2009: Christmas Cookies

I'm a few days behind on my posts...but wanted to get them all in.

Christmas Cookies

Did your family or ancestors make Christmas Cookies? How did you help? Did you have a favorite cookie?

[This post is excerpted from a previous blog post from December 2006]

One of my favorite traditions is baking Christmas cut-out cookies, using a recipe that my dad's sister Betty (Auntie B as I called her) used and passed down to us. Ever since I was a young girl I have looked forward to this tradition every year. I have many fond memories of baking these cookies, especially with my "Auntie" - my father's other sister (Sr. Camilla) when she came home to Pittsburgh from Texas during the holidays. Here are a few photos of one of our baking sessions during Christmas 1972. I still have the same cookie cutter too! Great memories!

I included this recipe in the GeneaBloggers Holiday Cookbook 2009, and it is also available in my book, Baba's Kitchen: Slovak & Rusyn Family Recipes & Traditions. You can also link to it at my December 20, 2006 post.

Monday, December 07, 2009

The Genea-Speak Award

I am so honored to be chosen for the Genea-Speak Award by Miriam Midkiff of AnceStories: The Stories of My Ancestors.

This award was created by texican wife at Mountain Genealogists and is given "for excellence in writing, speaking, and the promoting of good genealogical practices." The requirement upon receiving the award is to pass it on to at least two deserving recipients. The first recipient was Thomas McEntee of Destination Austin Family, who then nominated Miriam Midkiff of AnceStories: The Stories of My Ancestors, and Randy Seaver of Genea-Musings. These three folks are so deserving of this award and it humbles me to have my name included alongside them as one of the early recipients of this award.

I'm not one who's big on the whole “awards scene,” but having this particular award presented to me by Miriam is very special. I have never met Miriam in person (but hope to one day), but I have a tremendous respect for all that Miriam contributes to the genealogical community through her writing, teaching, and speaking, and so admire her efforts with Scanfest--although I've not had the time to participate, I appreciate what a valuable service this is to genealogists everywhere.

It is also an honor to receive this award in the company of Lisa Louise Cooke of Genealogy Gems Podcast. Lisa has interviewed me several times for her shows which are stellar and I have enjoyed getting to know her at various conferences and expos. Lisa is truly a "gem" in the genealogical world.

Now comes the difficult part: choosing two colleagues to nominate for this award. There are so many deserving individuals out there—many whom I feel deserve the honor more than I do—and I wish I could nominate everyone on my very long “short list.”

I would like to present this award to two genealogists I had the pleasure of meeting in person this past summer: Steve Danko and Janet Hovorka.

Steve Danko: Stephen Danko, PhD is a genealogy lecturer, and a very popular blogger who writes Steve’s Genealogy Blog, which was named one of the 25 Most Popular blogs of 2009 by ProGenealogists. Steve is a fellow East European genealogist and understands the complexities and frustrations of doing research in the former Austro-Hungarian Empire. His lectures and blog break down what is a complicated process into simple terms that are extremely helpful and insightful. His lectures are different from others on the circuit and through his speaking and blogging he challenges us to take a closer look at the documents of our ancestors. I had the pleasure of spending time with Steve this summer when we both were speakers at a conference held by the Polish Genealogical Society of Connecticut and the Northeast in New Britain, CT. After the conference a group of us went to New York City and took a trip to Ellis Island, and enjoyed a great dinner at Ukrainian East restaurant. It was also a thrill to watch as Steve located the address where his grandfather first stayed when he arrived in America. Kudos to Steve for his efforts in bringing attention to the area of East European genealogy to general audiences.

Janet Hovorka: Janet Hovorka, a.k.a. “The Chart Chick,” is Development Director for Generation Maps, an online genealogy chart printing service. She is the author of the highly creative and engaging Chart Chick blog. I first met Janet in June 2009 at the Loveland Colorado Family History Expo. I immediately noticed how Janet’s smile, energy and enthusiasm would instantly light up any room she entered.

She recently wrote on her blog after the ICAPGEN conference: “I'm also happy to report that this is exactly what I want to do with my life. I honestly believe that family history is vitally important and literally can solve the world's problems. I came home so energized that I couldn't wait to get back to work this morning--even more so than usual.

Through her excellence, Janet energizes us all!

Janet has quickly become a highly sought after speaker with a great passion for the benefits family history can bring to your life. She loves discussing genealogy topics and issues with class participants. I had the pleasure of attending one of Janet’s workshops at the Salt Lake City Family History Expo in August 2009. The talk was on “Serendipity and Other Miracles: Why You Need Family History.” Janet just doesn’t focus on the facts, but goes deeper to explore the “why” of researching our roots. I left this lecture feeling totally inspired because it reminded me of why I started doing genealogy in the first place.

Please join me in congratulating these two very deserving award recipients!

Advent Calendar: December 7, 2009: Holiday Parties

Holiday Parties
Did your family throw a holiday party each year? Do you remember attending any holiday parties?

Our family still has holiday parties. In the "good ol' days" my parents and I would join my aunts, uncles and cousins to spend Christmas Day at my Grandma Figlar's house--and it was quite a gathering. Lots of food, laughter, conversation, and the occasional scuffle or two. But it was all about FAMILY. I sure miss those days!

Each year in Pittsburgh the family still has a gathering, usually a day or two after Christmas. Because we are scattered now and everyone has their own work schedules and other obligations, not everyone can make the party every year. But an effort is made to still come together for some good food, laughs, and a Christmas grab bag.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Advent Calendar: December 6, 2009: Santa Claus

Santa Claus
Did you ever send a letter to Santa? Did you ever visit Santa and “make a list?” Do you still believe in Santa Claus?

I always wrote letters to Santa Claus. I took great care in composing what I would say.  I also would visit Santa with my "list".  My mother would take me to see Santa at one of the local department stores, or at the Slovak Civic Federation in Duquesne.

I don't ever recall being scared or crying when I sat on Santa's lap, and I never had any trouble communicating what I wanted for Christmas. And, as I recall, Santa was always pretty good to me.  

Of course I still believe in Santa Claus!! (wink, wink).


Saturday, December 05, 2009

Advent Calendar: December 5, 2009: Outdoor Decorations

Outdoor Decorations

Did people in your neighborhood decorate with lights? Did some people really go “all out” when decorating? Any stories involving your ancestors and decorations?

I don't recall seeing too many elaborately decorated houses in my neigbhorhood. There were one or two on the street I lived on and a few on some of the adjacent streets. As for our house, my mother always preferred simplicity. She would put a single (electric) candle in each of the two windows in our living room, and one in the upstairs bedroom facing the street. As I recall, she always had a wreath on the door--perhaps in the early years it was a live wreath, but for as long as I remember it would be a lovely artificial wreath beautifully decorated by my Aunt Helen.

From what I recall, my grandparents did not decorate their homes on the outside either.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Advent Calendar: December 4, 2009: Christmas Cards

Christmas Cards

Did your family send cards? Did your family display the ones they received? Do you still send Christmas cards? Do you have any cards from your ancestors?

I have a confession to make. I don't particularly like sending Christmas cards. Now, this may sound a bit strange coming from someone who makes a living as a writer, but I really do not look forward to this particular aspect of the holiday season. I don't have the time to personalize each card, so it becomes more of an obligatory activity than one I can enjoy. Last year I mostly sent e-greetings. It saved me time, money for postage, and saved some trees by cutting down on the paper. I also don't feel offended if I don't receive cards. I have so many file boxes of old Christmas/holiday cards and I am running out of storage space, but the genealogist (or pack-rat?) in me just can't bring myself to tossing them out. I suppose I could scan them first, but I don't have much free time to do that right now.

It's interesting because, come to think of it, my mother never really liked to send cards either. Guess that was passed down.

I haven't yet decided what I will do this year. So, if you don't receive a card from me, please don't take it personally.

In the meantime, I'll use this post to wish all of my family and friends a safe, healthy and happy holiday season and all the best for 2010!

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Advent Calendar: December 3, 2009: Christmas Ornaments

Christmas Ornaments

Did your family have heirloom or cherished ornaments? Did you ever string popcorn and cranberries? Did your family or ancestors make Christmas ornaments?

Every year at Christmas mymother would buy me one new special ornament. Usually it was a Koala bear because I have been collecting all types of Koala bear items since I was a young girl. I have koala ornaments with Santa hats, holding holly and candy canes, a cowboy koala, a trumpet playing koala, and other Christmas-themed koalas. It wouldn't be Christmas without my koala-themed tree!

My other treasured ornament is a tiny Peanuts nativity set I purchased about 20 years ago. "A Charlie Brown Christmas" is my favorite Christmas program and I place this little nativity under a small tree that my mother used to decorate, which I now have in my home. For me it symbolizes what Christmas truly is all about. This item is also serving as my "Treasure Chest Thursday" post for today.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Advent Calendar: December 2, 2009: Holiday Foods

Holiday Foods

Did your family or ancestors serve traditional dishes for the holidays? Was there one dish that was unusual?

Since my heritage is Slovak and Carpatho-Rusyn, the foods we ate at Christmas reflected the traditions of these ethnic groups, and the focus is more on Christmas Eve than Christmas Day with the traditional Vilia supper. I'll post more about this special custom on December 24th which focuses on Christmas Eve, but the traditional foods served are:

Oplatka (from the word oblata, which means "offering") - unleavened wafers imprinted with scenes of the Lord's holy birth, served with honey.

Mushroom soup - usually made of sauerkraut brine and dried mushrooms.

Bobalky (bo-by-ke) - sweet, raised dough or a biscuit type dough sweetened with honey and sprinkled with a pleasant preparation of poppy seed, or browned butter and sauerkraut.

Pagace/Pagach - A thin raised dough baked either in a single or double layer filled with sweet cabbage or mashed potatoes. After baking, it is brushed with butter and cut in pie wedges. We called it "Slovak Pizza."

Fish - served because Catholics in Eastern Europe observed a strict fast on the vigil of Christmas.

Pirohy - dough pockets, pastry filled with fillings of sweet cabbage, sauerkraut, lekvar, prunes, or potatoes and cheese and boiled, then served with browned butter.

Other foods eaten include dried prunes, apples, nuts, and other items as dictated by family, village or regional customs.

Slovak pastry, known as kolace or strudel-like rolls which are filled with walnuts, poppy seed, lekvar (prune butter) or cheese.

Red wine is also served.
The foods take a long time to prepare. My mother and grandmother would start a few days in advance to make sure everything was ready for the family on Christmas Eve.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Advent Calendar: December 1, 2009

This is my very first post for the Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories. Thanks to Geneabloggers for organizing this excellent exercise!  

The Christmas Tree
Did you have a real tree or was it artificial? How big was the tree? Who decorated the tree? What types of Christmas trees did your ancestors have?

I mostly remember our family having an artificial tree, but I do recall a few times having a real tree.  Our living room was small and we did not have much room for a sprawling spruce, but my mother always made sure our tree looked nice--plenty of colored lights, tinsel, and special ornaments--elves, Santas and Snow White & the Seven Dwarfs (they were plastic with felt costumes).  I always got to put the star on the tree--or sometimes it was an angel.  When I was younger, my father would lift me up so I could reach the top and do the honors, but for the most part Dad stayed out of the decorating ritual.  

As for my ancestors, I don't know what type of trees they had--if they even had any at all.