Christmas Through their Eyes
by Catherine Plishka, Receptionist
Christmas. That time of year when there’s so much hustle and bustle among businesses and shops alike. That time of year for getting the best shopping deals and hoping to get the best (and most expensive) present ever on your wish list (even after you stop believing in Santa Claus). While the world is going crazy trying to get the best of everything – gifts, decorations and food, St. Joseph’s Home for the Elderly still carries the true spirit of Christmas all year round. In fact, it is the Residents of St. Joseph’s Home who never forget what Christmas is all about in a particular way. They teach us that we don’t have to grasp the best in life. Rather, the best in life is given to us by God and all we have to do is receive His gifts as His children. The following Residents who will be mentioned all grew up during hard times and they can certainly teach us all how to be grateful and to look to God for everything in good times and bad.
Since so many continue celebrating Christmas traditions from the lands of their forefathers, there is nothing more fascinating than speaking with people from other countries themselves. Noel, a Resident from Ireland, says that his favorite memory as a child was, “kneeling in front of the crib in church,” of his old home town. Losing both of his parents only months apart at age 8, he recalls that kneeling before the Christ Child was, “such a great feeling and gave me strength.” Although his family grew up poor, as well as the other families in his town, he says there is, “a great difference between ‘living’ and ‘existing’.”
Teresita, another Resident, also recalls how dear the nativity scene was to her and her family. “My mother always prepared a special crib. The crib was in a cave with all the animals and shepherds.” Being from the Philippines, she also says, “we never opened our gifts until January 6,” and that every morning beginning December 15 until Christmas Eve, “we would rise before the cock crowed,” to attend a novena of masses said throughout the country.
Anna and Stan, a Polish couple, say that celebrating Christmas in Poland lasts not only one day but two. Their Christmas Eve meal consists of twelve meatless dishes including pierogi, stuffed cabbage and kutia, a wheat pudding with berries. As far as decorating the Christmas tree, Stan says that, “Thirty years ago, we used to put candy on the tree. Now we just put lights.”
Beverly, a Resident with strong Italian roots says that every Christmas Eve she and her family would walk to Midnight Mass. “We walked through the snow. Back then the streets were safe,” she recalls. Her family also, “never ate meat on Christmas Eve,” but there were tons of food to go around. “I think there was more food at Christmas than Thanksgiving,” she laughs. Beverly also mentioned that their Christmas tree was decorated with real candles because electric lighting had not yet come into existence.
Although Christmas is a solemn time for Catholics and Christians, we must not forget about humor and joy. Gerda, a Resident from Germany recalls how one year she forgot to clean her shoe before St. Nicholas came to fill it with gifts. As a result, there was a lump of coal in her shoe the next morning. Noel recalls fondly that the very first gift he ever received in his hands from a friend was nothing other than a pack of cigarettes. Beverly claims that one year she specifically asked for a pair of Russian boots, but never got them.
As far as the true meaning of Christmas is concerned, Teresita says, “It’s the birthday of Jesus but we forget that.” Beverly says Christmas should be all about, “loving and caring,” and especially peace. “I hate wars,” she recalls after growing up during World War I and II. If you need some words of wisdom during Christmas or any other day of the year, look to the Residents of St. Joseph’s Home for the Elderly. For as Noel says with a smile, “This place is truly a God-send.”