Thursday, December 22, 2005

Holiday traditions

In an utterly un-shocking revelation about myself, I'll share this with you: I'm Italian, and as such was raised Roman Catholic. Therefore, my family celebrates Christmas. When I was very young, we'd go to an annual Christmas Eve party at my parents' friends house. They'd have Santa come and hand out presents and they put out a great spread. To this day, those annual shindigs are the parties that I measure all others against. And there has never been anything I've seen that topped it. Alas, 'twas the '70s, when people knew how to put on their finery and drink and eat with reckless abandon.

When I got a bit older, we started going to mass at midnight. I always loved midnight mass, even when I was a particularly rambunctious teenager. We'd have our Christmas Eve feast at home and then me and my best friend used to drive all over the city checking out the Christmas lights in the late evening and then we'd procure the booze from somewhere and end up stumbling into mass and having to stand in the back because it was so crowded. Didn't matter, and I'm sure some people aren't so moved by the fact we attended mass with a glow on. I won't get all religious on you, but suffice to say that the candles and incense and the hush of the place, even with the fully packed house, always really symbolized the beauty of Christmas to me. It was profoundly peaceful. It was kind and thoughtful, and it was special, even if we were repeating essentially the same thing we repeated every Sunday, just many people around the world had been repeating for nearly a couple thousand years. There's something nearly supernaturally comforting and reassuring about a tradition like that. My friend, she's since moved down south and just this year had her first baby. So as I was out finishing shopping one night last week, I went on a detour and drove around checking out the lights by myself. Unfortunately, she was always the one with a good sense of direction and memory, so I couldn't find some of the best displays. And it wasn't nearly as much fun without her. But it was nice to do anyhow. For mass at midnight on Christmas Eve this year, there will be a different priest, but other than that, it will be the same as all those years ago.

Anyhow, from childhood all the way to my teens, not much changed about Christmas Day. When Christmas morning rolled around, there was always panetonne and presents, and then we'd start cooking and eating for the rest of the day. On Christmas night, my aunts, uncles and cousins would come over for dinner of stuffed shells and cherry dessert and whatever else, meaning plenty of booze like pina coladas for Christmas. 'Twas a joy.

With the advent of videotapes and then later DVDs, we'd always have Christmas movies playing in the background throughout the day. Our idea of Christmas movies is probably a little different than most. My dad's favorite was always 1941, while I was much more fond of Die Hard, and my poor mom was too busy to even consider leaving the kitchen. So we'd watch parts of both. Then, of course, The Godfather (both parts 1 and 2) would get slapped in and that'd pretty much eat up the whole rest of the day/evening while we'd sit around while the family came over and we'd start eating phenomenal food and then listen to Lou Rawls or Tony Bennett's Christmas albums, cause they're the best.

Then, once the 26th rolled around, we'd had our party where everyone had visited and eaten, and the rest of the week was utterly consumed with visiting everyone else's place and making sure we: 1) saw their tree, 2) ate their food, and 3) drank their booze. It was like this round-robin game of house-hopping every night. Even though we all saw each other at our house on the 25th, EVERYONE had to get to EVERYONE else's house at some point. But there were no other scheduled parties, so it was a week of slightly controlled chaos with calling and "dropping in" and whoosing around, eating Chex mix while pulling boots off and being banished to the basement with other kids and a cookie tray at some houses (which was good) as opposed to having to sit in the living room and listening to the adults talk over a cheese plate (which was very very bad and boring) and ooohing and aahing over the trees and checking out everyone's toys and avoiding my one aunt's diet cookies before pulling the boots back on and whooshing back out into the blowing snow to get to someone else's house where there'd be homemade wine and meatballs while people counted down, three, two, one -- corks popped at midnight and a whole new year had started and by then everyone's circadian rhythms were screwed from staying up so late and running around and eating so much and just when most people take a breath and rest for us it would all culminate on New Year's Night when there was the second "official" party of the season at my uncle's house where everyone gathered at the same time once more to have whiskey sours and ham and alfredo and all the cousins would be finished with their presents but when we'd finally careen home on the icy roads with less oscillating lights illuminating the streets as people turned off their decorations and then we'd go to sleep and wake up the next day and it would all be back to normal. No more rushing and no more visiting and no more fancy meals and no more cousins and no more trees. Back to routine. And that's fine, cause we all had jobs and lives and you can't really live in that sort of circus for longer than a week unless you're a rock star.

Anyhow. That was Christmastime for us. Nothing earthshattering, I know. But I enjoyed it. It was all so very merry.

I hope your last week of the year is filled with whatever makes you happy, be it food and family or drinks and decorations or watching The Godfather on DVD.


Biff said...

Hey Susan,

Sounds like you had some great Christmas celebrations. I'll be finishing Trattoria this Christmas ... the mood of the story just seems to fit in nice. I guess it's the family thing.

All the best to you this Christmas, and may 2006 be the Year of DiPlacido.


SusanD said...

Hiya Biff! Great to have you around. I know you're busy with TEAM PLAYER getting ready for its big republishing, and I'm excited for you. It's one of my all-time favorite books! I hope you have a wonderful holiday, too. And may 2006 be the year of Mitchell/DiPlacido!