Maternal-Side Christmas: Christmas Eve

My maternal grandparents (Bruno and Viola (Biliunas) Markoski) lived on the other side of the state, so I don’t think I ever saw them at Christmas time. However, my mom carried on the Polish tradition of pierogies on Christmas Eve.

Being good Catholics, we were not to eat meat on Christmas Eve, so the Polish often made pierogies for dinner. Folks would later ask me, “Were they stuffed with potatoes?” I’d never heard of such a thing! My mom’s family made their pierogies stuffed with farmer’s cheese (which is kind of like ricotta) or kapusta (a sauerkraut mixture). (Personally, I prefer the cheese-stuffed pierogies slathered with melted butter spooned over them!)

Cheese pierogies on the top, kapusta on the bottom! Author’s collection.

Both my sisters have made pierogies, as well as a few of my first cousins on that side of the family (as reported on Facebook). Me? I do have my mom’s recipe, but I’ve never made them. Maybe someday! For now, I’m enjoying everyone else’s!

My side of the family continues this cooking tradition, as well as opening presents on Christmas Eve. It all started with our opening the gifts from our parents on Christmas Eve (which included the obligatory matching jammies that we’d put on that night), then Santa gifts on Christmas Day. As we got older, the Santa gifts faded away, and we were just left with Christmas Eve. Usually, we had the Mormon Tabernacle Choir singing classics in the background as each of us took turns opening our gifts. When my dad was alive, and if we were really lucky, he’d play some Christmas songs on the cornet. He had a really awesome tone! (And yes, I would say he inherited his musicality from his ancestors!)

We continue these traditions to this day on the years we have Christmas with my side of the family. For my own family (husband and kids), we have our own presents on Christmas morning as well as a yummy Christmas dinner on a table with Great-grandmother Bertha’s tablecloth and my aunt Cheryl’s silverware set that Great-grandmother Eva gave her.

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Paternal-Side Christmas: Party!

Growing up, we lived in the next town over from my paternal grandparents, George and Eugenie (Atwell) Pleau. My sister and I saw them often, and every year our family was invited to their annual Christmas party.

Actually, everyone was seemed to be invited to their party, which was held on or right before Christmas (I can’t remember). It was an early exercise in genealogy, as many members of my grandmother’s family were there: Great-grandfather Thomas Atwell, Great-great Uncle Claude Lipsett and his wife Clara, Great-Uncle Thomas Atwell and his second wife Helen, Uncle Tom’s two adult children (both of whom are still living) and my second cousins, who were a little younger than my sister. I remember my grandmother’s cousin, Carolyn Lipsett and her mother Marion. There may have been – no, there probably were – others at the party as well.

An early incarnation of the Christmas party – my first! Pictured are Uncle Claude, myself and Great-Grandfather Tom. Author’s collection.

My grandparents’ house was always decked out in 1960s Christmas kitsch. Giant glowing electric candles at the front door, orange-light candlesticks in each window, a choir of red-robed ceramic angels on the mantle over a fake fire, pretty curly ribbon candy in Christmas dishes on the end-tables. Their small fake tree, decorated with sparkly red and gold balls, stood in the corner where my grandfather set it up under my grandmother’s changing instruction.

At some point in the evening, us kids (me, my sister and the second cousins) got to open our presents. Perhaps it was early in the evening, to keep us occupied for the rest of the night. It was clear that the presents were from my grandparents, not Santa. No matter what the toys were, we’d always get a net sack of chocolate coins in our stockings (which I later learned was a popular Hanukkah thing). I can still hear the sounds of the empty gold foils hitting each other.

Then the grown-ups would talk and talk. There were probably appetizers on the dining room table that they’d eat. For my immediate family, this continued until I was ten, and then we’d moved away the following summer, too far to visit at the holidays. I wish I could time-travel back to the parties to hear what the grown-ups talked about; I bet I’d pick up a lot more family stories!