The Bethlehem Singers
You are cordially invited to take a step back
in time with Parishioner, Michael Cervenek, to 1940's Ohio as he paints for us a heartwarming
picture of faith and family in the tradition of an American-Carpathian Christmas:
It is a few days before
January 7, 1941, when our family celebrates Rozhdestvo Christovo, which is the Nativity of Christ by our Julian Calendar.
Mama says that we should have a visit from the Jaslikary (Bethlehem Singers) soon. I am nearly six years old and
the baby of the family.
"The Jaslikary have visited the Harvilak and the Fidek families, just down
the street and so we should be next", Mama explains as we have our supper. Dad is in the basement building a couple
of wooden horses for his work as a carpenter. Dad eats as soon as he gets home from work, and rarely waits for all of
us to get together for supper. My sisters Mary, Marge, Catherine, and Pauline are at home and arguing about wearing each other's
clothes. Brother Bill is still at work for a Buick dealer in Steubenville.
As I listen to Tom Mix on the
radio, and look out the window toward the front porch, the snow is falling and covering the porch, and our street. Soon
the wind is blowing the snow all around and drifts form at the hedges bordering our front yard.
Mama comes into
the living room and asks if I put my sled away. I say, "Yes, I put the sled under the back porch. I guess
the Jaslikary won't visit us tonight."
Again I look out the window. I notice some shadows moving
out on the street. I hear the sound of a bell tinkling. The sound gets louder and the shadows move up our sidewalk
covered with snow, and move toward the front porch steps.
"It's them. They are here!" I shout.
Mama yells for Dad to come up from the basement, and yells upstairs at the girls to come down. They all arrive in the
hall by the front door, and Mama turns on the porch light.
Out on the porch are five men wearing heavy topcoats,
black rubber boots, funny pointed head red and green toboggans. They are sprinkled with the fresh snow over their hats
and shoulders. Three men are carrying shepherds crooks with tiny bells attached at the hook. One man is carrying
a large tin lunch pail. The fifth man is carrying a model of our St. Joseph Greek Catholic church, with a hinged bell
tower. All have frosted beards and moustaches, which are wet and I can tell they are fake. They all stomp their
feet to kick off the snow.
At first, I am afraid of these guys and stand behind my mother. I recognize
the man carrying the model church as Kresny Trudics, who also gives me haircuts. He is the godfather to one of my sisters.
He begins his spiel, "We are poor shepherds who have come from the fields and are trying to find the manger where Jesus
Christ is born. We think that it is near here, in Bethlehem. Can you help us find the way?" (All of
this is said in Rusin). I ask what he was saying and Dad translates.
Now they break into familiar Kolady
(Carols). They make great harmonies and sing loud. But, before singing the first note, all take a sip of the liquid
from the lunch pail. Neighbor porch lights come on as they sing, and the neighbors who are ignorant, yell out, "Hey,
don't you know Christmas is over!! Shut the hell up. You dumb hunkies!" The Jaslikary reply was
to sing louder and louder and to give the thumb to the nose while doing so.
Before leaving our house, Professor
Washko (church cantor), and who is one of the shepherds, leads us in a prayer asking God to grant us many years in peace,
health and happiness. (Mnoga Y Blahayalita!)
Finally, Kresny Trudicks opens the top of the model church
and requests a donation for the Church. Dad puts a couple of bucks into the church.
Not to be outdone, the
shepherd carrying the lunch pail asks for some whisky to warm them during their journey to the next home. Dad brings
out his favorite, 4 Roses, measures a water glass full, and dumps it into the pail. "Thank you" and
"Bozhe nas Darov (May God grant you health) are yelled out by all of us.
The Jaslikary gather
again on the porch and, as the snow again begins to swirl around them, sing, "Snami Boh", meaning "God
is with us."
As they turn down the street, the bells again jingle from the shepherd crooks. The snow
is really coming down now. I watch as they disappear in the cold on this snowy night before Roszdestvo.
Their songs still ring through the night air. Their devotion warms their hearts. Their pleasure is
shared with us, and that community lunch pail 'runneth over' !