The Christmas season is one full of joy and celebration. This is especially true at St. Joseph’s, even during a pandemic the Christmas spirit shines through. The Christmas traditions at St. Joe’s include both American and Polish ones. Although this year brought many hardships to all of this, it was important for us to make sure our residents experienced the best possible Christmas despite the circumstances. Christmas celebrations began on December 6th, as part of Polish tradition, the residents had a visit from St. Nicholas. St Nicholas brought them a sweet treat and a small gift. There was visible joy on the resident’s faces as they got the first taste of the Christmas spirit. The following week Santa Claus came to visit the residents with his well-known reindeer, Rudolph. Santa and Rudolph visit the residents again giving them sweet treats and singing Christmas carols of their choice. All while these events are happening the interior of St. Joseph’s slowly transforms, the hallways are decorated with ornaments, Christmas trees are being decorated and lit up, and most importantly the nativity scene with an empty manger is on display in the chapel.

The manger will remain empty throughout the weeks of advent and eventually upon the birth of baby Jesus will be blessed with his presence. This year, many of these traditions had to be modified and altered in order to go along with COVID-19 guidelines. But, the spirit was still very much present. The sisters were able to bring the Baby Jesus to the residents via a beautifully decorated cart. In turn, the residents were able to see and welcome Baby Jesus while staying in their rooms. The annual tradition of an employee Christmas party was celebrated at a much smaller scale compared to years prior. Our residents also weren’t able to spend more quality amongst one another whether it was watching Christmas movies or celebrating mass together in the chapel.

As per Polish tradition, the main Christmas celebration occurs on Christmas Eve, known as “Wigilia” in Polish. The Wigilia is a supper that starts at the sighting of the first star and the before eating everyone shares a wafer, “opłatek”, and shares wishes with each other. The dishes present at the supper include many of the well known Polish foods such as pierogi or borscht. Overall there are about 12 dishes on the table, some dishes vary depending on what region from Poland you are from. The residents get a taste of the more popular dishes such as fish, pierogi, and sauerkraut. Also, it is important that you try every dish, even a little bit. Another tradition on this day is attending midnight mass, “Pasterka”.

After Christmas, it was time to welcome a new year. I think we were all happy to say “good riddance” to 2020 and welcomed 2021 very warmly. In the new year, the tradition that signifies the end of the Christmas season is the blessing of the rooms on the Epiphany. This blessing protects those who live within that room from illness and misfortune. The Epiphany also marks the departure of Baby Jesus. Our residents also received warm holiday wishes from beyond the facility. The children who attend CCD classes at St. John Paul II Parish in Perth Amboy sung Christmas carols to the residents via recording. Our residents were also given Christmas cards from many groups. As always the Christmas season comes and goes very quickly.

COVID-19 restrictions couldn’t take away from the residents experiencing joy and happiness in troubling times. We must remember to look forward and search for the positive even in difficult times in order to persevere.

article by Norbert Gruca