My husband and I had been dating for 2 months, and he wanted me to meet his parents. He took me to his Croatian church, Saint Nicholas in Milvale, for Christmas eve mass. I was in awe of the unique murals that surrounded the inside of the church walls and ceiling. They were very different from anything I had ever seen before. These murals had been painted by the famous artist Maxo Vanka from Croatia and were a special gift to the Croatian populace of Pittsburgh. Every pew in the church was filled, and we had to climb the narrow ancient stairs to the choir loft. The church is very old and has a cornerstone designating it as a historic building by the city of Pittsburgh. Today the church is well over a hundred years old.
When the lights were turned off in the church, a spot light followed the procession of the children carrying baby Jesus to the manger at the front of the altar. The children were all dressed in native Croatian dress with brightly embroidered colors of red, white and blue. The girls had pretty long silk ribbons cascading from their hair. The Tamburitzan music flowed with enchanting string vibrations, tumburas, and trumpets. The choir sang traditional Croatian songs in their native language. The Croatian tradition of the Christmas eve midnight mass was a very beautiful and impressive experience.
After mass, we arrived at my husband's family home in Lawrenceville. His parents, three sisters, and two brothers all welcomed me to their home. Before the meal,we all had to do the traditional toast to each other with a glass of Slivitsa, a strong Croatian wine. We enjoyed a wonderful traditional Christmas eve supper consisting of baked ham, homemade kielbasa, home grown horseradish, hard boiled eggs, potato salad, paska bread, and nut roll. All of the food had been taken to the church in a basket covered with a beautifully embroidered cloth to be blessed after mass.
Over the years, we have taken our children and grand children to this beautiful mass. Unfortunately, my husband's parents, two sisters, and a brother are no longer with us. The remaining family members have started their own traditions, some in faraway places, but we will never forget the warmth of the traditional Croatian mass at Saint Nicholas Church followed by the Christmas eve supper attended by all of the family members.