My Italian-American Christmas
My family has been in the US since the turn of the century. My heritage is completly Italian, and so many of our Christmas traditions are derived from Italian traditions.
First of all, Christmas is not Christmas unless we have the house extravagantly decorated by the Sunday after Thanksgiving. We put over 10,000 mini-lights on and in our house. Our Christmas tree is fake, but it does not matter. We love the thing with all our hearts and it shows. There is no time during the year where we pay so much attention to detail as Christmas.
The season involves all the shopping and wrapping and it all culminates on December 24. All the baking is getting finished, all the last minute presents are being wrapped, my brother decides to start shopping, and anticipation mounts for that evening.
My grandmother usually cooks Christmas Eve dinner. No matter where we hold it or how hard it may be, the dinner is always fish. We don’t have the array of most Italian feasts, over the years we have narrowed it down to a few mainstays: spaghetti with clam sauce, fried shrimp, shrimp scampi, cocktail shrimp, flounder, lobster tails, and scungilli(a word that I still do not know how to spell). We sometimes have something else, but these dishes are consistently there.
After dinner we sit around for a while, then have dessert. Dessert is an assortment of fruits, pies, and cookies we have baked throughout the season. During time we tell family stories and reminisce about Christmas’s past. By the time dessert is over, everyone is incredibly tired from laughing.
After dessert, if we are not at home, my immediate family leaves for home. When we get home, we all change and gather at the tree. It is time to open the presents. We last until 2:00 am opening all the gifts that we have given to each other and trying out all the cool toys. Sleep is hard to come by on this night. Most of us sleep no more than two or three hours before waking up Christmas morning to continue the joy of all the new stuff. No matter how old we are (me the youngest being 18, to my father, who is 71), we can’t contain the joy of the season.
My aunt and uncle show up later in the day. Even though we just saw them the night before, we can’t have Christmas without them. My mother cooks this dinner, usually baked-ziti, manicotti, or lasagna followed by a beef or pork dish. There is no such thing as moderation here, we have enough food to last a month after this dinner, even after everyone eats. We then open the gifts that are left to give and have fun just being with the family. Animosities are forgotten, even if not on the surface. Everyone gives from their heart to everyone else.
Dessert comes along much like the night before, and then, before we know it, everything is over and we are back to normal. The tree comes down on the nearest weekend to the Epiphany and the fact of a new year kicks in.
This account of my Christmas may seem a little surreal, but I have not lied once. We may act like it is just any other day, but everyone can feel that Christmas is a time to forget the differences and love each other as a family. Our traditions have lasted this long and they will continue to last as long as my family lives on the earth.