Flu, Pierogi and Koledy

“What’s that?”

My bleary eyes couldn’t make out what my mother carried into the room.

“It’s an onion.”

I stared. “Oh god, my fever is getting worse. I swear you just said an onion.”

“No, actually your fever’s down a bit. And I did say an onion.”

“…why?”

Welcome to my holiday season, everybody.

It began this past week with the worst bout of a flu I’ve ever had. I have lost about ten pounds which is a miracle, but I’m either starving or nauseous with no in between. And then the fever returns. My mother went so far as to try old folk remedies like bringing an onion into the room to “absorb” the bacteria.

Yeah. That’s what I said. Anyone with supporting evidence it works, feel free to leave a comment. Otherwise, laugh in the joint-aching, feverish, eye-watering agony that was the rest of that day.

Ahem.

Christmas 2012! The decor is finally up chez Staley. Tree, lights, garland. No ornaments on the tree but I’m sure they will find their way prior to Christmas Day. If not? I like minimalist!

I mentioned in a previous post how my family is always sort of surprised by the holidays. My dad was crawling on the floor, pulling Christmas Spode china out and saying, “this year is the most behind we’ve ever been!”

“Dad, we say that every year. Mom didn’t go shopping until Christmas Eve last year, remember?”

“Really?”

yes.

And so we prepare for this year’s Christmas Eve, the holiest of nights (according to my mother, who has a severe case of the Roman Catholics.)

We are Polish-American Roman Catholic too, which for anyone familiar with their own ethnic strain of religiousness, knows that means trouble. Drama, that is.

Wigilia, great bringer together of families. Christmas Eve. When the first star shines, anyone wanting pierogi better be at the table or they are missing out. Also the crab dip and seasonal herrings might vanish.

Now that I’m dating a Polish-American National Catholic,

(there is a big difference there, mainly that they let priests marry,)

–we have comparisons to make.

“My family makes barscht.” He tells me proudly.

It’s not a contest. It’s not, but I get defensive anyway. “Mine makes mushroom soup.”

“Well, mine makes chruschiki.”

“Mine makes homemade pierogi and we are eating it this year! Hah! Top that!”

20121222-195205.jpg

Here is my Babci, or grandmother, on the day we made them. She wanted me to take a “European” style picture. I had no idea what that was until she picked up her wine and said: “I guess I should be eating one of these, or something.”

I love her. She’s crazy.

When Christmas Eve arrives, we will tromp to her tiny townhouse in NE Philly, and go to the door singing traditional tunes.

These are called koledy, with an accent if you’re Polish, but I’m too lazy to install the proper keyboard on my phone.

Tradition holds you approach the door when the first star touches the sky, knock, and when they open, wish them a merry Christmas by singing a traditional carol.

Somewhere through the years, everyone in my family forgot all the carols. Except one.

Dzisiaj w Betlehem.

And you hear it not once, but at least ten times, as guests and stragglers trickle in throughout the night. Non-Poles hum along awkwardly, eyes dancing towards the meatless table, wondering:

“Why did I agree to come here?”

While the ninth strain continues, my father curses in the kitchen as he drops a knife on the floor and my Babci shouts some embarrassing story about sex with my grandfather as she downs her third highball.

Conversations wreck havoc through the room, too many and numerous to follow, but one does try.

I will sit at the back of the table, trapped. On one side, my mentally retarded aunt will be telling me about her cat in a very sweet, but very redundant way. On the other, my cool, but always emotional aunt, will be crying over the phone to my long distance cousin in Florida.

I will meet the eyes of my present cousins cross table and we will smile over our wine glasses before shouting a reply to one of the five questions lingering at once.

Yes, it is Christmas Eve.

And this year I may be sniffly, coughing, sick of pierogi and koledy, but nonetheless:

I will be content.

This is my family. And I love them.

A very, merry Christmas, one and all. See you soon, as the new year dawns bright and beautiful for us

Oh heck:

2013! Whoooooo! Boats and hos!

Love you all,

~jms

2 Comments

  1. Enjoyed this post! My family is Polish/Roman Catholic and I am familiar with all the food you have mentioned–pierogi, mushroom soup, chruschiki, barscht ! I love the picture of your grandmother making pierogi–my mom, sister and I get together and make them at my mom’s house–we have a lot of fun. I married a russian-orthodox man, so that brings some new traditions (some similar food), so I could relate to what you mentioned. Orthodoxy remind me of a very strict Catholic tradition (pre Vatican 2), yet their priest also can marry… Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

    1. Merry Christmas and a Happy 2013 to you as well!

      Yes, russian-orthodox is different and similar in many ways. I had a few close Russian friends at school, and thus was exposed to their culture quite a bit.

      I’m glad you enjoyed and could relate! It sounds like we have quite a bit in common. Thanks for stopping by!

      ~jms

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