Pierogi. Kielbasa. Kapusta. Oplatek.
Ah, it wouldn’t be Christmas without them.
Hard to believe my last name is McCarthy, huh?
Well, my mother’s maiden name was Lajewski. Sounds just like it’s spelled: “Why-es-kee.”
For a guy who sheds a tear at every version of “Danny Boy” or enjoys a pint of Guinness or two or ... Christmas for me is a Polish tradition.
Though our families today are far flung, from Arizona to New Jersey, New York City, Colorado, Buffalo and Virginia, the memories of those family Christmases in Sayreville, N.J., remain and revisit this time of year.
Whether in the basements of the McCarthys, Samuels or Plewas or the kitchen of Nanny and Gramps or, later, my sister Jerilyn’s in Arizona, Christmas Eve remains the brightest memory of all.
I remember my grandfather making sure everyone had enough Four Roses and Ballantine.
I remember my Aunt Deanie making sure everyone had their fill of mushroom soup with the dried mushrooms shipped in from the old country, of course. Can’t forget my grandfather’s never-duplicated sauerkraut soup. That’s right, sauerkraut soup. The best.
I remember my sister reminding us how important it was to pass around the oplatki and kiss each other — not a mean feat for a family not into the public lovey dovey.
At Christmas, though, it was different.
I remember missing the woman who would become my wife when I visited folks in Arizona one Christmas. I looked at her picture a lot that holiday.
I remember bringing my dad to Christmas from the hospital after his stroke and other ailments so he could spend the holiday with us.
I remember how my mother brightened up on the Christmas Eve when cancer was winning the battle.
In good times and times of sorrow, there is something about Christmas that makes things better, makes us appreciate what we have, who we have and who we miss.
Dan McCarthy is editor of the Daily News-Sun, Surprise Today and Glendale-Peoria Today.