Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Celebrating New Year's

My parents didn't "go out" often, but they did every New Year's Eve, either to a party at someone's home or the Ambridge Vets (VFW), leaving me and my sisters to spend the evening celebrating with our grandma. My grandma would feed us cookies and let us stay up, dressed in our pajamas and slippers, way past our usual bedtime. She'd turn on her TV, and we'd watch Guy Lombardo and His Royal Canadians live from a New York hotel ballroom.

Sometimes Grandma would dance with us. When we were little, she'd let us stand on her feet while she stepped and swayed around her living room. We were incredible dancers!

We'd watch the glamorous people party until the ball dropped in Times Square at midnight. Then we'd grab some of Grandma's pots and pans and rush out into the cold night air, stand on her front porch, yell "Happy New Year!" and bang those pots and pans together as loudly as we could. We could hear others in the neighborhood doing the same. After a few minutes of making a ruckus, we went back inside and to bed.

I loved the morning of New Year's Day when we'd get the exciting booty my parents had brought home for us from the party. Shiny cardboard hats. Sparkly tiaras. Streamers. Cardboard horns with thin strips of tissue paper hanging from the bottom. Blowout horns. Decorated tin noisemakers that clicked, clacked, rattled, or made a cranking sound when you spun them on their handles. Such fun!

Then we'd go to Mass since January 1 was a Holy Day of Obligation, which obligated Catholics to go to mass. Back then, it was "the Feast of the Circumcision." If we asked what "circumcision" was, we were led to believe that it was sort of like a baptism for Jews. Because you couldn't tell Catholic kids, especially girls, about cutting off part of Jesus' penis. Later, the name of the day was changed to "Octave of the Nativity." "Octave" is much easier to explain to inquisitive kids. Now, the day is called "Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God." Even easier to explain. Or not. "Well, 'Solemnity of Mary' doesn't mean Mary was 'solemn,' which means 'serious' or 'somber' or 'not a lot of fun.' Rather, in Catholic-speak, 'solemnity' means this is a extra-important Catholic celebration."

My mom would always cook pork and sauerkraut for our New Year's Day meal. I also seem to recall that my dad had a New Year's tradition of eating smelts. He'd try to talk me into eating one, but the smelts smelt, so I'd decline. I've tried to find out if the smelt-eating was some kind of Slovak New Year's tradition, but so far, I haven't found anything indicating it was. Does anyone know why my dad would have started the new year with a smelt snack?

The VFW is still at 1098 Duss Avenue, and it doesn't look like the exterior has changed much over the years. The above photo shows the Google street view.

1 comment:

  1. Great post. A friend of mine & her grandkids celebrated that way (in Virginia) on New Years Eve...except they didn't go outside. Here in suburban Wash. DC, that sort of noisemaking probably is frowned upon. :-(

    Regarding the smelts, I don't know about the New Years Eve/Slovak tradition. But as a kid, we always had the traditional Italian "7 Fishes" (more or less) on Christmas Eve. And one of the fish dishes was smelts (deboned, de-headed, and lightly floured, then fried in oil).