Spaghetti Dinner for St. Herman's House of Hospitality; Ohio Norsemen Julefest 2017
On Sunday, December 3rd, we started off at the 26th annual Spaghetti Dinner for St. Herman's House of Hospitality in the church hall at St. Malachi Parish on Washington Avenue in Cleveland.
On its website, St. Herman House is described as "an Orthodox Christian house of hospitality. We are a non-profit, 501c3, charitable organization committed to serving the homeless and needy poor of Ohio City and Inner City Cleveland in a spirit of love and hospitality. We have been in operation since September of 1977. St Herman's is solely owned and operated by FOCUS North America which conducts outreach centers and programs in 30 cities around the country."
As usual, Mr. Dan Jenks and his wife, Ms. Debbie Jenks, did a terrific job organizing it and we enjoyed being entertained by "Mud in Yer Eye" band which played old Christmas favorites. To be sure, Mr. Jenks' good friend Mr. Ted Lux was on hand to conduct the raffle (everybody won something) for holiday presents. As for us, we took offered a small contribution from "Margaret W. Wong and Associates" which was very much appreciated.
This year Mr. H. Paul Finley, the local director of St. Herman House FOCUS Cleveland, had some exciting news to tell us about a project involving the training of some of St. Herman's residents to be bee keepers. There are currently just a few hives at Spruce Farm (a ministry of St. Herman's FOCUS Cleveland) near Middlefield, Ohio but in 2017 they produced enough honey to fill 168 small bottles. Proceeds from the sale of this honey will be directed towards the purchasing of 7 more hives with the ultimate goal of having 60 of them. Even though these bottles of honey were on sale here, Mr. Finley gave one of them to Mr. Jenks and said with a twinkle that in lieu of all that he had done for St. Herman's over the years, he very much earned it.
As it turned out, our plans for the rest of the day on Sunday failed to transpire so we called our friend Ms. Catherine McCutcheon to see if we could attend the "Ohio Norsemen Julefest 2017" being held later that afternoon and Ms. McCutcheon told us that we were certainly welcome to come over.
Thus we went over to the "Perk-Cup Cafe and Grill" on West Bagley Road in Berea and took part in the festivities organized by Ms. Caroline Kuhl and Ms. Jo Ross which featured socializing, great food (the brussel sprouts were among the best we have had as of late), a white elephant gift exchange, and the sharing of Christmas traditions in Norway.
Along these lines, we were served creamy rice pudding for desert and (in the Norwegian Christmas tradition) there was an almond well-hidden in one of the bowls of pudding. In Norway, the person whose pudding contained the almond would have been awarded a delicious marzipan pig (i.e. a confectionery shaped like a pig) but in this case the winner was awarded a cup for "Lutefish Soup" another Norwegian meal made from dried cod.
Served with the rice pudding were pieces of "kransekake" which could best be described as a wreath cake (see photo) resembling a small Christmas tree. It was prepared by Mr. Todd Mueller, who is 3rd generation Norweigan, and a very gifted chef who studied at the famed "Ecole Lenotre" in France and now works at "Alfredo's at the Inn" in Mayfield Village. Mr. Mueller noted that sometimes a bottle of spirits was sometimes hidden in the hollow core of the "kransekake" to enhance the partying but not in this particular one on this day.
We shared a table with Ms. McCutcheon and her husband, Mr. Ron McCutheon, as well as Mr. Julian Fossen, and Ms. Brigit Ihms. We really enjoyed talking to Ms. Ihms who immigrated from Norway to the United States in 1961 on an "immigrant status visa" and taught kindegarten at a school in the New York/New Jersey area before marrying and moving to Cleveland. She said that she learned English before she came to the United States but it was fine-tuned during experiences supervising small U.S.-born children residing in Norway with their parents. Ms. Ihms nodded her head as she recalled that she could count on those youngsters to call her on it when she made a mistake in word usage or pronunciation.
Later, at the urging of Ms. Ross, Ms. Ihms recounted what it was like celebrating "Julefest" (what we in the U.S. refer to as Christmas) as a child living in the countryside of Norway. Her memories included:
****On December 1st, children were given an advent calendar that contained a window for each day until December 24th. So each day she opened a window to view a lovely Julefest-themed picture. Nowadays, though, there is a piece of candy inside the window too.
****People didn't display decorated Julefest trees in their living rooms for the month before Christmas as we do here in the U.S. Instead the only time that they children saw the tree before Julefest Eve was when it was taken into the house shortly before that time. It was locked up in the parlor/living room and the children were forbidden to view it.
****As we generally open our gifts on Christmas morning, in Norway the accepted time for this was on the eve of Julefest. Therefore on the evening of December 23rd, porridge was always left in the barn for "Julenisse" (a sort of rustic version of Santa Claus) and it was always gone by the time the children inspected the bowl on the morning of December 24th.
****Around 3pm on the Eve of Julefest (December 24th), her father took she and her siblings to church for a special children's service but her mother stayed home to finish preparations for the holiday dinner. Going to church at this time was always a lovely experience because carols were sung and the church was filled with decorated trees.
****After arriving home a terrific Julefest dinner was served followed by the dessert of rice pudding with a lucky almond in one of the bowls. It was THEN that the youngsters were permitted to go into the living room/parlor and view the decorated tree with presents at its base. BUT they couldn't touch the presents until her father lit all the candles on the tree. Even then they couldn't open the presents; instead the whole family joined hands and danced around the tree singing carols for an extended period (Ms. Ihms smiled as she remembered thinking that the time length was interminable) and it was only when THE CAROLING ENDED that the youngsters were allowed to open their presents ONE AT A TIME.
Also present at the "Ohio Norsemen Julefest" was Ms. Vigdis Boge who like Ms. Ihms immigrated to the U.S. from Norway. She graciously seconded all of Ms. Ihms' Julefest memories but added that on 5pm on Julefest Eve the church bells would always ring (Ms. Ihms said she was right-she forgot to include that) and that all the shops were closed for two days on Julefest Eve and Julefest. Most of all, Ms. Boge recalled these two days as a time of relative quiet; on Julefest everyone stayed at home and even the neighborhood children were not permitted to visit each other and display their presents.
Two other people that we encountered at the Julefest celebration in Berea were Mr. Al Wilson and his wife, Ms. Laura Wilson. Mr. Wilson reminded us that he had stopped by our booth at the Asia Festival earlier in the year where he obtained a "Margaret W. Wong & Associates" letter opener which he still makes use of. We were only sorry that we didn't travel with more of them in our car; if we had we would have given him another one as a backup.
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