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Question On Christmas Custom #339450
12/17/09 02:23 PM
12/17/09 02:23 PM
Joined: Dec 2009
Posts: 19
Pennsylvania
Pilgrim66 Offline OP
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Pilgrim66  Offline OP
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Pennsylvania
Hello all, first off let me say that I am a new member to the forum although I have visited the site frequently. I find the site very enjoyable and insightful. My post concerns a Christmas custom that was observed by my grandparents and I have continued to observe although I am kind of hazy on its origins or true meaning. My grandfather was Croation and my grandmother was Italian. For the most part I have been brought up with Italian customs, my grandmother and her siblings were first generation so we did maintain many customs. Later in life I came to discover that my family was in fact Italo-Albanian. This fact never came to light and was only discovered when after I married an Italian woman whose family it turned out was from the same region in Italy, we visited her family there and looked up my family and then things became apparant. My family in Italy are Byzantine but when my great-grandparents came to this country there was no Italo-Albanian church so they went to the Roman Catholic church and thus I was brought up Roman Catholic. Sorry to be so long winded, the custom I have a question on is, a small cup filled with salt and pepper with a clove of garlic and coin in it. It was something that was always there at Christmas when I grew up and unfortunately taking it for granted I never questioned my grandparents on the custom and sadly they are now gone and my own parents took little interest in such matters. So if this is something that anyone knows about I would appreciate any information so I can pass the custom on to my own children.

Re: Question On Christmas Custom [Re: Pilgrim66] #339502
12/18/09 08:22 AM
12/18/09 08:22 AM
Joined: Oct 2003
Posts: 9,962
Massachusetts
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Irish Melkite Offline
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Irish Melkite  Offline
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Pilgrim,

Welcome to the forum!

I'm unfamiliar with the particular custom, but I suspect that I know from whence you can learn more.

Try an e-mail to either Archdeacon John DeMeis of the Society of Our Lady of Grace, the principal Italo-Albanian Byzantine organization in the US, or Debora Scatuccio, the editor of the Society's newsletter. Both faithfully answer e-mail and are always pleased to hear from anyone who has recently discovered their Arberesh roots. Feel free to use my name - I'm friends with both.

E-mail addresses are ItaloGreek@aol.com or ItaloGreek@verizon.net (not sure which is using which addy at present).

Meanwhile, your question may prompt responses from our resident Italo-Albanian, Vito, who hasn't been heard from in a while, or Andrew J Rubis, our resident Albanian, who has likewise been too-long missing, and is very knowlegeable about Italo-Albanian history and customs.

Many years,

Neil


"One day all our ethnic traits ... will have disappeared. Time itself is seeing to this. And so we can not think of our communities as ethnic parishes, ... unless we wish to assure the death of our community."
Re: Question On Christmas Custom [Re: Irish Melkite] #339517
12/18/09 03:02 PM
12/18/09 03:02 PM
Joined: Dec 2009
Posts: 19
Pennsylvania
Pilgrim66 Offline OP
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Pilgrim66  Offline OP
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Pennsylvania
Thank You for the kind welcome and the information. It is much appreciated. As of late I have begun an exploration of Eastern Christianity because of my families history as well as being drawn to the beauty and mysticism that I am finding that my Roman Rite lacks. By the way, if anyone has any suggestions on reading materials or other sources it would be most welcome. As of late I have been devouring everything I can find, most recently writings of the Desert Fathers.


Re: Question On Christmas Custom [Re: Pilgrim66] #339589
12/19/09 02:42 PM
12/19/09 02:42 PM
Joined: Nov 2001
Posts: 351
Ohio
V
Vito Offline
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Vito  Offline
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Hi Neil.
Apparently I've left an incorrect impression. I'm not Italo-Albanian. My parents however, both from Calabria. At least one of the churches in their town seemed to be Greek back in the mists of time. I've taken an interest in the Italo-Greek-Albanian Church over the years. Unfortunately, I'm not familiar with the custom that Pilgrim asks about. Neil, thanks for thinking of me.
Pace e bene, Vito
Buon Natale

Re: Question On Christmas Custom [Re: Vito] #339615
12/19/09 11:54 PM
12/19/09 11:54 PM
Joined: Jul 2003
Posts: 2,877
Western Australia
Pavel Ivanovich Offline
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Pilgrim66 what province of Italy were you grandparents from? Molise has both Croat and Albanian communities.

cool

Re: Question On Christmas Custom [Re: Pavel Ivanovich] #339622
12/20/09 01:09 AM
12/20/09 01:09 AM
Joined: Dec 2009
Posts: 19
Pennsylvania
Pilgrim66 Offline OP
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Pilgrim66  Offline OP
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Pavel, my family is from Calabria. The town is called Civita. It is in the area of Castrovilari. I was lucky enough to visit the town and my family that still lives there when I was visiting my wife's family that also lives in Calabria. This is when I discovered my families Eastern roots. My grandmother and her brothers and sisters would speak to each other in Italian a lot but when there was somethign they talked about that they did not want the kids to understand they would revert to this other dialect that no one but them knew, as it turns out it was Arberesh, a fact I or no one else in the family knew until I visited Italy.

Re: Question On Christmas Custom [Re: Pilgrim66] #339636
12/20/09 07:37 AM
12/20/09 07:37 AM
Joined: Oct 2003
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Massachusetts
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Irish Melkite Offline
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Vito, my brother,

Thank you for coming by and commenting. Good to know that you are well. Even if your ethnicity has been a figment of my imagination these several years past blush , your regular presence here is missed.

Many years,

Neil


"One day all our ethnic traits ... will have disappeared. Time itself is seeing to this. And so we can not think of our communities as ethnic parishes, ... unless we wish to assure the death of our community."
Re: Question On Christmas Custom [Re: Irish Melkite] #339648
12/20/09 04:28 PM
12/20/09 04:28 PM
Joined: Sep 2004
Posts: 709
DC area
Penthaetria Offline
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I wonder if your family didn't meld together many different customs. A bowl of garlic was often placed under the table at Christmas to ward away evil spirits. A coin was baked into the Christmas cake and whoever found the coin in his slice would have good fortune in the coming year. Salt was on the table for good health, and pepper? hmmm... I don't know ... Spice in life?

I can easily imagine how the traditions might have been mixed together. The dog is nosing the garlic; put the bowl on the table. No flour for cake this year; put the coin in the garlic bowl. The garlic bowl got broken; put the coin and the garlic in with the salt. Might as well add some pepper!

Do let us know if you unearth any real answers.

Re: Question On Christmas Custom [Re: Penthaetria] #339663
12/20/09 09:55 PM
12/20/09 09:55 PM
Joined: Jul 2003
Posts: 2,877
Western Australia
Pavel Ivanovich Offline
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Pavel Ivanovich  Offline
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I have a feeling the cup and it's contents have some role in the Holy Supper. Not all at once but in different parts and ways.

Re: Question On Christmas Custom [Re: Pavel Ivanovich] #340170
12/28/09 04:51 PM
12/28/09 04:51 PM
Joined: Oct 2002
Posts: 1,235
Philadelphia
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Andrew J. Rubis Offline
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Dear Pilgrim66,

Tanti auguri per un buon Natale! Gezuar Krishtlindlet!

Your family's heritage from amongst the Arberesh of Civita is one that any Christian would be proud to have. I have a Godson whose roots are in Santa Sofia d'Epiro, not too far from Civita. I will ask him of this tradition. You may also consider going to the website www.communiarbereshe.it and contacting the Eparchia del Lungro to which the faithful of Civita belong.

I have no definitive answer for the custom that you describe,
however, there may be an association with one of the customs that we Albanian Orthodox keep in the coin.

We do place a coin at Christmas/New Years into a "lakror" or "burek" which in Greek (and as one would likely find it labeled in stores in North America) is called a "spanakopita" if made with spinach and pita/filo or a "tyropita" if made with a ricotta-like farmer's cheese inside of pita/filo.

The coin is hidden inside and who ever finds it in their piece finds the blessing/fortune/good luck for the new year. The cooks (mom or grandmom) usually know where they've placed it and so they are constantly maneouvering the pan so that the male children get the blessing. If no one finds the coin, then the coin's blessing falls to the "house."

Whoever finds the coin, deposits it in the Church in thanks for God's blessings.

Neils' advice on contacts is equally valid and, as always, his gracious invocation of my name has brought me back in from the cold.

In Christ who was born of the Virgin,
Andrew


Re: Question On Christmas Custom [Re: Andrew J. Rubis] #340171
12/28/09 04:59 PM
12/28/09 04:59 PM
Joined: May 2007
Posts: 2,214
Houston, TX USA
Terry Bohannon Offline
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If no one finds the coin, then I'd wonder who didn't chew their food.

Terry

Re: Question On Christmas Custom [Re: Terry Bohannon] #340215
12/29/09 06:36 AM
12/29/09 06:36 AM
Joined: Oct 2003
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Massachusetts
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Irish Melkite Offline
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Andrew (now Deacon Andrew - Axios, my friend, and may God grant you many years in His service),

Thank you for the information - the coin baked into food is, as you know, a custom shared by many - including some Western Christians, although I don't think that I've ever heard of it being in spanakopita previous to this. We'll look forward to hearing whether your godson is familiar with the practice which Pilgrim has described.

Meanwhile, it was great to see a post from you.

The quick response of Vito and yourself to my request for input is a wonderful testament to the fraternal nature of the many who have posted here over the years and, though absent for sometimes a long while, are always willing to respond to the information needs of a member, new or old.

May God grant you both many years and may you both have a blessed and happy new year.

Neil


"One day all our ethnic traits ... will have disappeared. Time itself is seeing to this. And so we can not think of our communities as ethnic parishes, ... unless we wish to assure the death of our community."
Re: Question On Christmas Custom [Re: Irish Melkite] #340226
12/29/09 12:20 PM
12/29/09 12:20 PM
Joined: Oct 2002
Posts: 1,235
Philadelphia
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Andrew J. Rubis Offline
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Philadelphia
Dear Pilgrim,

My Godson confirmed the tradition that you described as one prevalent amongst the Arberesh but not the Latins.

The salt's significance is in its colour, with white representing purity or "goodness." The black, of course, "evil." As you may have guessed, the garlic keeps the devil at bay. The coin, the fortune or blessing.

My Godson has noticed the same tradition amongst the Puerto Ricans who owe their Christianity to the Spanish. We speculate that the tradition may be a part of pre-Christian Greco-Mediterranean culture as opposed to Latin-European culture, which linguistically and culturally ran along the north to south divide versus the often-quoted east to west divide. In ancient times (early Church) in Italy we find Greek being spoken and used liturgically from Benevento (and even Rome, we dare say) on south. The same north-south divide can be found in Illyricum vs. Epiros (in Albania) and Aragon/Castille/La Mancha vs. Andalusia/Cadiz in Spain.

We (again) speculate on the "pre-Christian" origins because of the dualist approach: good vs evil on equal terms in the same cup (world) needing man's intervention (garlic) and a little help from above (fortune/blessing).

In Christ,
Andrew

Re: Question On Christmas Custom [Re: Andrew J. Rubis] #340227
12/29/09 12:23 PM
12/29/09 12:23 PM
Joined: Oct 2002
Posts: 1,235
Philadelphia
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Andrew J. Rubis Offline
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Pilgrim:

Now some internet links that actually work (as opposed to what I posted previously):

www.arbitalia.it
www.lungro.chiesacattolica.it
www.jemi.it

Re: Question On Christmas Custom [Re: Andrew J. Rubis] #340231
12/29/09 01:59 PM
12/29/09 01:59 PM
Joined: Dec 2009
Posts: 19
Pennsylvania
Pilgrim66 Offline OP
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Pilgrim66  Offline OP
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Pennsylvania
Andrew, thank you very much for the information. It is much appreciated.

-Frank

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