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Byzantine Christmas

By ELLEN WOOD a.k.a. Maruška, Contributing Writer, Artist, Columnist & Award-winning Author

When I was growing up, our family celebrated two Christmases each year: one on December 25 and the other on January 7, which is Greek/Byzantine Christmas. below is my acrylics/gold leaf painting of a Byzantine Madonna and Child.

Booze was big in my father’s family as well as my mother’s, but Daddy had a glass of wine only every now and then, and my mother didn’t drink at all. Daddy’s brother Tony, though, was often falling down drunk by the end of our visit to his house in Buck Run, Pennsylvania. Well, not quite falling down. He’d stand there near the kitchen table leaning toward one side and catching himself before he leaned too far. Then he’d overcompensate and lean too far on the other side and then continue like that, weaving back and forth.

Even when he wasn’t drunk, nobody talked when Uncle Tony talked. Not because he intimidated them. No, quite the opposite. The air was always charged with good cheer at his house. Nobody talked when he talked because you couldn’t out-boom Uncle Tony.

And when he laughed, coughing up coal dust phlegm from working in the mines, I swear the whole house shook. Or maybe just wobbled a little.

Their house was in the woods. Leading up to the front door were rickety stairs that once tasted paint but the flavor was gone. When we went to visit Uncle Tony and his family, you could smell Auntie Mary’s cooking before you even reached the rickety stairs. Even for Christmas, it was ham and halupkies, which I loved. If you’re not Slovak and never heard of a halupki, it’s ground beef, rice and onions wrapped in a cabbage leaf, a couple dozen of them nuzzling stewed tomatoes.

Uncle Tony was not only loud and jovial, he was also generous. He didn’t make much money but he’d empty his pockets and give us kids any money he had there. He even did that after he went on the wagon for good.

Uncle Tony, Auntie Mary, my parents and my siblings are all long gone now, but

I fondly remember the fun we had and the warmth of family – and I wanted to share these with you.

Ellen Wood of Questa is an award-winning author as well as an artist

using the name, Maruška. The website for her books and paintings is

You may Contact Ellen at

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