Memories of Christmas Past

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!!


  1. Aunt Carol says

    Wow!!!! Well written Julie. I, too, have been reflecting on Christmas-past and all the good times we all had together. Things change, and we must make new holiday memories for our family now and future. Thank God we also have the memories of good times we had with family past and present.

    Being the first all non-Italian to join the Cleri family, my first Christmas was a big change from how the French celebrate Christmas. After attending midnight Mass we came home and opened gifts then family would gather and we would eat pork pie and celebrate until early in the a.m. I was not a fish eater (our fish consumtion included clam cakes, fish sticks, and lobster). Yes, I did grow up in Maine! In the Italian the seven fishes, including squid, eel, and octopus, that’s I remember about my first Christmas meal. I was encouraged to “taste,” which I did with much hesitation. Of course I remember the home-made pasta. That was so good, something I never had. I could not believe how many courses were served, it seemed non-stop. It was great spending time during all the holidays with all the Cleris and Tarquinios either in Southbridge or Somerville. I remember Bob being Santa for the kids. One year we had a Ouiju board and Uncle George did not believe it, Elaine I were playing with it and asked Uncle George to ask a question neither of us would know, he wanted to know his service number. Quiju got it right!!!! Elaine I were just as shocked as everyone else was. There are some many great memories. My marriage ended, but the relationship with “my family” will last forever. Thank you all for being you. Love you all!

  2. Juliann says

    Thanks, Auntie for sharing your thoughts and memories. It’s heart warming to read them and feel the love we all shared during those times. And the beauty is hearing things from your point of view, since we all experienced things in our own way.

    Anyone else?

  3. Juliann says

    I also had to add this, which just came in from an email from BobSteve or SteveBob…if this doesn’t just crack you up…

    My brother, Steve has assumed the Christmas Eve role of doing the present rendition of the
    Feast of 7 Fishes.

    We were in the Italian Market making sure we had all the necessary ingredients and were checking out when the cashier started to laugh and turning to her fellow cashier ” Mary,Look at these two, laughing more and more, they bought only 4 Custanas (chestnuts), what in the world are you going to do with ust 4 of them” now the entire area was in laughter. We explained that we either forget to cook them, or cook them and forget they are in the oven, or take them out of the oven and forget to serve them. So we now buy token Castanas. They are the catalysts the bring back the MEMORIES of the Christmas Dinners in Somerville with the whole gang. If for nothing at all, that story will be told at many Christmas Dinners this year.
    The two “chadrols” that bought 4 Castanas.

    Love Stevebob or Bobsteve

  4. Mom says

    So many wonderful memories we have of our Christmas’
    past and you have captured most of them. We will never be able to duplicate them now but must make new memories for the new generation. Everyone is so scattered all over the place, that we would find it very difficult to all be in the same place at one time. In our generation, we were all close so being together was easy. My Mom and Auntie May were the glue that held our families together. No matter how hard we try we could never live up to their example. They were tireless when it came to family. Always planning for the next holiday or party when we would all be together. The great thing was we all enjoyed being together and had a great time. Me, my two brothers and all my cousins spent so much time together, it was like we were one family. We had such wonderful times. There was always great preparation of the traditional foods and so many desserts. My aunt was the master baker, so many yummy things!! Julie, I’m so glad that you remember everything in such detail and so fondly, it has brought me back to remembering all the wonderful times we had. I send my love to you all!

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