Polish, Slovak and German Christmas traditions were shared at a special holiday presentation at the Vincentian Villa retirement community in McCandless.
The event, attended by about 40 people, was presented Dec. 9 by representatives of local religious communities, including the Sisters of Divine Providence in McCandless, Sisters of the Holy Spirit in Green Tree, and Sisters of Charity of Nazareth in McCandless, and featured traditional music, food, decorations and discussions pertaining to each ethnicity.
While there are many differences and similarities between the three nationalities, all presenters agreed that the most important part about traditions is handing them down to younger generations.
“Kids like traditions, and kids like customs,” said Sister Eileen Chlebowski, of the Sisters of the Holy Spirit. “It makes the day more special.”
Chlebowski joined her fellow Holy Spirit Sister Jolenta Sredinski, who discussed popular Polish practices, such as eating sour wigilia soup and setting an extra spot at Christmas Eve dinner to represent a guest, stranger or Jesus.
Slovak traditions were presented by Sue Ondrejco of Greenfield on behalf of the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth. Ondrejco, who also represents the National Slovak Society and is co-host of “Slovak Radio Hour” on WPIT, 730 AM, noted the importance of keeping these practices.
"Traditions give us a sense of belonging,“ said Ondrejco, 53. She brought along samples of holiday decorations and said early Slovaks would hang their decorated tree upside down above the dinner table mostly due to lack of space in the home.
Sister Donna Marie Dorfner of the Sisters of Divine Providence included a traditional dress and desserts to complement her discussion of German traditions.
Like the two other ethnicities represented, Germans usually didn’t start decorating and celebrating until practically Christmas Eve, Sister Donna Marie said.
"The whole idea is the family gets together and exchanges gifts and stories,” said the sister, adding that many like to reminisce about their own traditions.
“I think people enjoy hearing the customs and nationalities as well as their own,” she said.
Of those who attended, many of them were residents at Vincentian Villa, which is part of the Vincentian Collaborative System, according to Vincentian communications director Robin Weber.
The Sisters of Charity of Nazareth campus is located near the retirement community and is affiliated with the Vincentian Collaborative System. A similar event on ethnic traditions held during the past Easter season was so popular with residents that Weber, of Moon Township, suggested doing something similar for the Christmas season.
One of the Villa residents, Paul Schubert, 81, attended the December event and commented on the importance of carrying on these practices with family members.
“Once you lose traditions you lose your background,” said Schubert, who is of German descent.
And although fellow Villa residents Tom and Clara Bayne have ethnic backgrounds of Irish and Italian, respectively, they still enjoyed hearing about the three other ethnic group’s customs.
“Neither of us is Slovak, Polish or German, but we enjoyed it,” said Clara Bayne, 70.