I always get a little sentimental around the holidays. I am a reflective person by nature (duh, like you didn’t know). I do long for holidays past, when life seemed a bit simpler. I was reminded of this when I was exchanging emails with my cousin Donna, who is serving in the Air Force down in Arizona right now. She misses home these days too, she was part of our family gatherings way back when.
Christmas Eve and Day were not just holidays, they were major events. I spent most of my time with my family on my mother’s side, which was all 100% Italian. A variety of Italian-English words were spoken in half sentences, Fortissimo wine was served and it was so strong it would make your hair stand on end. My Uncle George and Nonni would sit there and “Beve” all afternoon. My grandmother (Nonna) and Auntie May would get all riled up, and wouldn’t like that too much.
There’d be multi-course meals, then fruit and nuts, then dessert. And did I mention the family? Yea, we’d all congregate there and spend hours on end. And I mean hours. It was always extra special when we got together with our family from Southbridge who used to live an hour away.
It would all start in the mid-afternoon of Christmas Eve, we’d all go to our grandmother’s house and start cooking. We were big into the Feast of 7 Fishes, so we’d have a smorgasboard of food to choose from. Over here was squid being stuffed, pasta being churned over there, and my grandmother at the counter would be slicing open live lobsters while they kicked their displeasure. She showed no fear, I can still see her doing it in my head. Everyone would have a task, no matter what age. My cousin Lisa hated lobsters, and we used to tease her unmercifully by pretending we were clipping her with lobster claws…of course the claw was our make-believe hands, but it seemed real.
We all participated in the preparations, and just enjoy being in the presence of our family. And the evening wouldn’t end until midnight or later, sometimes we’d head to midnight mass, although they wouldn’t always drag us kids. We’d either be sleeping on the benches or making too much of scene from being overtired. You know, the sound of giggles in between Latin verses, piercing eyes that blared “QUIET” from the elders…
And then we’d go home (sometimes), and come back early the next day to do it all over again. We’d play a card game called Tumblr, which was an easy-to-understand, fun game that all ages can play. Bets were made with coins, and we’d all bring our coin jars that we’d save up over the year. And laugh…oh yes, our group erupted in laughter over and over, especially when we won those silly little side bets. I also learned to play a mean game of 500 Rummy too during these marathons.
The smells in this kitchen were just amazing. If I even get a slight whiff of that smell today, my eyes tear up. Last time that happened I was in Little Italy in New York City.
This experience is not quite what we have today. In fact, it pales in comparison but it is nonetheless good. The challenges with today is that we all have so many places we need to be. And with more divorced families, hanging around with one family for 2 straight days is an impossibility. Plus, many of us have moved afar to Florida, Arizona, Orgegon, South Dakota and geographics make it difficult.
I am grateful to have those memories, for they brought such a deep respect for my Italian culture and heritage growing up. I am proud to be the host for Christmas Eve nowadays. I try to tie in some of the culture from what I remember. I’m lucky my Mom lives with me and we can share in some of those “preparations” for the evening together. It’s a special time. But it does bring up longing for a past that is just that, the past.
It was funny was seeing my husband settle into this family tradition of long visits. His family does things very differently, and we jokingly discuss the “First in-First Out” tradition there. Usually on the way over to any family event, he’s talking about when we will leave. But he found that leaving wasn’t really an option with my family. They just stayed. And stayed. And stayed. He eventually went to lay down, while we stayed some more.
But it was all in good fun, and he came to appreciate some of those traditions. And now that we have Christmas Eve, family doesn’t stay as long as they used to. So it all works out.
The main point is to be present with our family and friends to share life, break bread, and celebrate the holiday. Life is precious. We don’t know what’s going to happen next.
This year we are trying to revive a old tradition or two, whether it be a new dish to the menu or playing Tumblr again. Feel free to share any traditions that are important to you and your family, I’d love to hear them and we can all learn from each other.
Many blessings to you and your family. From the bottom of my heart, I wish you all a peaceful, joyous holiday season.
p.s. To Donna, Jason, James, and Val’s cousin Jay, thanks for your service to our country – you guys rock… Merry Christmas!!