Once upon a past Christmas celebration in 1994, the descendants of the late Martin and Mary Bielat of Dunkirk joined together at the farm of Ignatius "Joe" Bielat to rejoice in the true meaning of Christmas, family and friendship. The cold and bleak barn that at one time housed cattle was transformed into a winter wonderland complete with a 15' Christmas tree trimmed with golden lights and crimson ornaments. Antique oil lamps provided a soft glow throughout the barn which was adorned with yards of red, green, and gold garland that hung majestically from the rafters. The coal stove, over half a century old, radiated warmth throughout the humble dwelling.
A chaise lounge, couches, antique kettles, and an antique iron table were all a part of the serene sitting room which overlooked the snow covered fields. Proudly displayed in the most focal part of the barn stood a large Nativity set abundantly surrounded by candles, angels, and live greenery. Directly above this faith based setting hung a wrought iron lantern with a bright red candle burning from within, which symbolized the light that Jesus brought into the world. The Holy Bible rested on a stand nearby for all to bear witness.
The aroma of kapusta, pierogi, Polish sausage and sauerkraut along with dozens of other crockpot and finger foods wafted about the rooms. A circle was formed by the Bielat brothers and sisters who welcomed their children, nieces, nephews and close friends into their brood. The completed circle of people filled the room with love, peace and joy as they shared Oplatek with one another and offered thanks and blessings to all.
Jessica Abendschein as the Blessed Mother, Kristin Abendschein as the angel, Phillip Logano as St. Joseph and Aaron Mrowka as the Little Drummer Boy.
At the commencement of the dinner the children prepared for their shining moment of the night. They became the shepherds and angels and spoke of the little town of Bethlehem and how their Savior was born in the City of David. The display that held the Nativity set became a mini stage for the children. St. Joseph, the Blessed Mother, and the angel looked reflectively upon the Baby Jesus. When the narrators Joshua Struzynski and Clarrissa Abendschein finished reading from the Holy Bible, a silent hush descended upon the crowd. The individuals witnessing the event took pause to ponder the true meaning of Christmas in their lives.
The soulful silence continued until the beat of the Drummer Boy was heard in the distance. Kolendy, Polish Christmas songs, were sung by the Bielat sisters. "Silent Night" echoed from voices in both English and Polish as reindeer hooves could be heard dancing on the metal roof. The entrance of Santa Claus who softly chuckled his famous, "Ho, ho ho," genuflected in homage and respect before the newborn babe.
To this very day, the family and friends of the late Ignatius "Joe" Bielat will never forget the vast love, warmth, faith and camaraderie that existed that night and will be ever grateful to him; the staunch Polish-Catholic patriarch of their family for creating the much treasured and profound event.
Michele D. Starwalt