Advent wreaths at school and at home signaled the
beginning of preparations for Christmas. We girls would run to choir practice at St. Peter's Slovak Catholic Church in the evenings, where we tried to wrap our tongues around the Slovak syllables and Latin phrases which
were part of the Christmas hymn repertoire. The priest, Father Reguly would visit the school regularly, and on the last day before the holidays he would give each and every one of us a giant bag of candy - hard candy
shaped like ribbons, and pastel marshmallows. The coveted bag of candy meant that school was out and Christmas could now begin in earnest, so I'd gather up my art class ornaments from my desk to take home - macaroni
stars spray-painted gold, and Christmas card balls sewn together with wool. They would be the perfect accents for the tree we would get (at least my mother said so), although the Italian kids had it all over us Slovaks
when it came to finding interesting pasta shapes to bring in for craft-making.
While mother cleaned the house from top to bottom, I'd usually volunteer to take a couple of the younger children shopping. This would be a leisurely walk down Simpson Street
to look in all the windows as we made our way to downtown. Simpson Street had all the bakeries and delis at that time and trays of their goods were displayed in the windows, the heat from the just baked goodies fogging
up the glass. Marzipan pigs, foil wrapped liqueur chocolates, giant jars of pickles, powdery white cookies, festoons of hanging sausages and all manner of other delicacies kept us enthralled. Every time a customer
entered or exited, a warm and fragrant cloud of smoked meat smells would roll over us . Then downtown we would head to Woolworth's or Kresge's where our allowance could take us further. It's amazing how we
sliced those small coins into various purchases to light up our family's Christmas. One year I made a corsage for my mother out of a fistful of small plastic objects I picked out - holly, miniature presents, reindeer
and 3 wisemen surrounded by poinsettias, and to my mother's credit, she wore it on Christmas day.
Visiting Santa was not a big tradition in our family. We children held the jolly old soul in reserve and preferred to write and illustrate letters which we mailed to him . We
knew he was also Saint Nicholas and it somehow didn't seem right to jump onto his lap and beg him for candy canes.