From harbor to home, traditions ring in '96 Many opt to celebrate the new year quietly

January 01, 1996|By Joe Mathews | Joe Mathews,SUN STAFF

The Cucco sisters have lived in Little Italy all their lives, and the New Year's Eve routine is always the same: Mass at St. Leo the Great Roman Catholic Church followed by a long evening of food, poker and family, topped off by a bowl of lentil soup when the clock strikes 12.

Since 1945, the family has invited all its neighbors and many friends to partake in its end-of-the-year feast consisting of ham, rice balls, chicken breasts, a fish salad, sausage and lots of pasta.

The site of the party alternates from year to year between the house of the oldest sister, Mina Cucco Scalia at 913 Stiles St., and the rowhouse of her little sister, Eleanor Cucco Stein, next door at 915.

"When we were growing up, New Year's Eve was important because it was our father's birthday," said the middle Cucco sister, Jenny Scaffidi, recalling the sponge rum cake her mother made for the occasion. "After he passed away, we decided to continue the tradition."

The sponge rum cake tradition has been supplanted, however, by angel food cake and some pies.

The poker game is played on the dining room table with nickels and dimes, maybe the occasional quarter. The parish priest, Oreste Pandola, is known to drop by, although it wasn't certain if he would make a cameo appearance last night.

As midnight approached, police reported several naked men running in and out of traffic in the 300 block E. Biddle St., knocking on car windows.

The rain beat harder, and downtown the crowd was light for fireworks at the Inner Harbor.

"Business is slow," said James Remsburg, a 17-year-old counter man at Honeycomb Market Bakery. At 10 p.m., he said: "Coffee and hot chocolate, those are the only things selling tonight."

About 150 people, most without umbrellas, gathered in the amphitheater to listen to live music.

"It's wet, but I've got a dry porch around here to sleep on," said James McArthur 48, who said he would spend his first homeless New Year's Eve after losing his job in May.

James Mack, 28, said the rain and low turnout were hurting business. Sales of his shiny, multicolored holiday hats were slow at $2 each. With 1996 drawing closer, he considered a discount.

"I don't have any New Year's resolution," said Mr. Mack, who works in a flower shop. "Except to make more money."

A block away at the Baltimore Convention Center, the floors were jammed with children and young adults playing video games, watching magicians or just hanging out. The ground floor resembled a dance in a high school gym, with Boyz II Men crooning over loudspeakers and young couples locked in embraces everywhere.

In Annapolis, organizers of First Night New Year's celebration had promised wholesome fun, but there in front of Parcel Plus on Main Street was Ray Girdley, the Unknown Magishun, pretending to slice off his hand as part of a magician's routine gone wrong.

The Annapolis celebration was clean, quiet and nonalcoholic, with most adults carrying dogs, kids or both in tow.

Gary and Jan Kanner, their golden retriever, Teak, and their friends Nina and Richard Rodgers sailed over early Saturday from Back Creek, where the Kanners dock the boat they live on, to get a good spot for last night's fireworks.

Using chicken wire, Mr. Kanner, 53, strung lights on his mast to make his boat look like a Christmas tree. "It's getting to be a tradition -- the lights and bringing the boat over for New Year's," he said. "This is the good life."

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