An American Croatian Christmas in Eastlake, Ohio: Good Friends, Fine Music, Delicious Food, and Santa Claus
On Sunday, November 29th, we went to the American-Croatian Lodge on Lakeshore Blvd. in Eastlake to attend both the opening of the "Croatians Celebrate Christmas" exhibition at the Croatian Heritage Museum and Library and the Croatian Fraternal Union (CFU) Lodge 995 Christmas Holiday Party. We always like seeing Ms. Branka Malinar, Curator of the Museum, who showed us the depiction of Christmas in the Kordun region of Central Croatia that was put together by Ms. Milka Vrataric. Also there for the occasion and helping out with the refreshments were Ms. Mila Mandic and Mr. Tom Turkaly from the Croatian Cultural Garden. Ms. Malinar explained to us the Croatian Christmas Eve proceedings and gave us a little booklet that offered more insight into end-of-the-year customs.
As we were nibbling at some cheese and crackers outside of the museum, we met Mr. Thomas J. Steich, an attorney who is almost retired but still does some pro bona work for Croatian organizations, who recalled that a few years ago Margaret W. Wong and Associates helped obtain visas for a Croatian singing group that tours the United States each August.
We then walked over to the CFU gathering where we were met at the entrance by Ms. Josefina Pavic, who was serving Sljivovica (a Croa tian plum brandy) to all of the adult party- goers who wished to partake. This was a family gathering, though, and there were a lot of children present with the parents. Our friend Mr. Robert Jerin, who had just been elected president of CFU Lodge 995, told
us that he deliberately planned this day around families because he wanted acquaint the children with the CFU so they would keep co ming on their own when they got older.
During the program, Mr. Jerin spoke for a few minutes along with Father Hladni from St. Paul Croatian Church who stressed the need for Croatians to be proud of their heritage and never forget their traditions or their culture.
A special guest on this day was Mr. Edward Pazo, National President of the Croatian Federal Union who had journeyed there all the way from Pittsburgh. Mr. Pazo spoke of how the CFU was founded 121 years ago for the purpose of preserving the Croatian heritage and to care for each other. He went on to praise the Cleveland chapter for being so active and promoting a lot of worthwhile projects like local Tamburitzan groups. He urged the parents to involve their children in as many activities as possible and spoke of the available CFU college scholarships.
We shared a table with Mr. Joe Brozovic, his wife, Ms. Jane Brozovic and their friend, Mr. Louie Malem, and had an excellent late afternoon meal.
Mr. Brozovic told us of how his father, a coal miner in Pennsylvania was of Croatian descent but born here in the United States. He married Mr. Brozovic's mother who immigrated here from Croatia but she eventually returned to Europe (taking her young son with her) because she preferred it to the United States. Thus, even thought Mr. Brozovic was a born U.S. citizen, he spent most of his youth abroad. Today, he has dual citizenship and spends 3-4 months each year in Croatia. He is a mechanical engineer by trade and has worked all over the world. He remembered referring some people from the Balkan region to Ms. Margaret W. Wong about 15 to 20 years ago.
Another person that we got to meet was Mr. John Lucic who told us that it was his job to play Santa Claus for the youngsters. He grinned and said that he believed that this made him "the number one guy" for the day, and we, as well as most of the parents, think that he just may have been right. Even though he was younger that we are, Mr. Lucic did such a good job playing old St. Nick that Mr. Malem, our table companion, got up to tell Santa what he wanted for Christmas.