Carolers keep tradition in Fells Point parade

Return: Every Dec. 23, those who grew up in the neighborhood come back for singing, eating and dancing.

December 24, 2003|By Sara Neufeld | Sara Neufeld,SUN STAFF

Ed Wojnowski lives in Lutherville now. His childhood friends, now in their 70s and 80s, have scattered around the Baltimore area.

But last night -- as they do every year on Dec. 23 -- they returned to Fells Point, the neighborhood where they grew up, for an evening of traditional Polish Christmas caroling, eating and dancing.

The event, known as the East Baltimore Christmas, has become custom for Caitlin Elwood as well.

She's only 12 and lives with her mother in Minnesota. But she spends Christmas with her father in Baltimore, and she looks forward to eating funnel cake at the Polish Home Club.

"That's my basic food group, funnel cake," she said.

Old and young, Polish and non-Polish alike, more than 250 people gathered on South Broadway to spread the sounds of the season throughout Fells Point.

"It's a Polish tradition that has transformed into a tradition for all," said Edward Marcinko, president of the Upper Fells Point Community Association.

Regina Lutz, 72, of Rosedale has been coming for at least a decade.

"It gets you into a Christmas spirit," she said, "and I love it."

Much about the neighborhood has changed in the 33 years since the caroling began. But despite a building boom and gentrification, the tradition shows no sign of fading.

"We'll continue as long as I'm alive," said Barbara Ulsch, 58, of Dundalk, who spent three days cooking for the occasion. She had to get duck blood for her traditional soup delivered from Pennsylvania because it's not sold in Maryland anymore.

Carolers last night received yellow programs filled with lyrics in both English and Polish, from "Jingle Bells" to "Bracia, Patrzcie Jeno."

The group stopped at South Broadway and Lancaster Street to honor the late Michael Arminger, a police officer who did much to help the Polish community.

And it stopped at St. Stanislaus Kostka Church, once a stronghold in the Polish community but now closed.

Krakus Deli offered passing carolers a traditional Polish snack of sausage and vodka.

Parts of the tradition have changed through the years. For example, the procession was led last night by a red pickup truck instead of the horse-drawn cart that in Poland would transport carolers in rural areas to different villages.

Neighbors came outside to wave and cheer.

Daniel Herman, who had come to Fells Point to shop, found his car blocked outside the Polish Home Club, but he didn't mind as he enjoyed watching the group assemble.

Stan "Stas'" Plecha, 49, emigrated from Poland 22 years ago and has been coming to carol every year since for a taste of home. Surrounded by people in Santa hats, the Columbia resident and chemical engineer wore a hat with a peacock feather and multicolored ribbons.

In Poland, he explained, you could gauge the wealth of people by the number of ribbons dangling from their hats. "That's how the girls know which guys to stick around with," he said.

After several hours of caroling, many returned to the Polish Home Club where Wojnowski and others had stayed behind, talking about the neighborhood's old days and setting out food for a party featuring a polka band.

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