STEUBENVILLE - A warm fire and the camaraderie of men preparing a Christmas feast were evident as soon as the visitor walked up to the large barbecue pit where three pigs and a number of chickens were slowly turning over the flames.
"I have been helping with this since I was 3 years old. That's more than 50 years now and we are passing the tradition on to the young men," explained Mark Vukelic.
Members of four area families gathered at Vukelic's home at 6 a.m. Sunday to roast the pigs and chickens that will be shared today at the Christmas feast.
Four families gathered Sunday at the Mark Vukelic home in Steubenville to roast three pigs and 30 chickens for an Orthodox Christmas feast today. Stoking the fire was Nick Mavromatis, who joined his brothers and members of the Busick, Vukelic and Repella families. -- Dave Gossett
"We respect the traditional Christmas season but we follow the older calendar. We celebrate the birth of Christ and Christianity. We have been fasting and not eating meat or dairy products for the past 30 days. So we will all enjoy a Christmas feast on Monday," Vukelic said.
"This is a Christian feast we will enjoy," he added.
Christmas Eve services began Sunday night with the blessing and burning of the yule log, along with the traditional Christmas vigil service.
"We are all Orthodox Christians celebrating Christmas. The priest at each church celebrates the same service but in a different language. We have Serbian Orthodox, Greek Orthodox and Russian Orthodox here today. We all celebrate the Christmas services the same way.
"The rotissierie was built by Nick Busic's father years ago. After this year I am giving the barbecue and equipment to Nick's son Robert, who will be married later this year. He will be carrying on the tradition that was started here by our grandfathers," said Vukelic.
A CD of a male Serbian chorus played softly nearby.
"Those are Serbian Christmas songs," said Vukelic, who sat on a porch overseeing the fire.
"This is when children and family members come home for our Christmas. I know a lot of children grow up and have to leave the area for a job. But they always want to come home for Christmas," cited Jim Mavromatis who was joined by his brothers, Nick and Mike.
"This is when our families come together," Vukelic stated.
Photos hang from a wall in Vukelic's house showing the feast preparations by mothers and fathers and grandparents.
"My grandfather was like a surgeon when he cut the meat for our Christmas dinner. This tradition has been going on for years and will hopefully continue for many more years. This is a special day for all of us and you can see these men take the barbecue seriously but also enjoy the time together," Mavromatis said.
Nick Busic pulled a piece of corrugated steel in front of the fire to maintain the heat on the slowly turning meat and welcome the visitor to the roast.
"It is a beautiful day for this. Today is about Christmas and family," he said.
The Christmas Divine Liturgy will begin this morning at the local Orthodox churches.
Services also will be held Tuesday, the second day of Christmas, dedicated to the mother of God and to St. Stephen on Wednesday.
"We do this again for Easter when we will roast a spring lamb. This is our tradition and about our religion and will always be important to all of us," said Vukelic.
(Gossett can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)