The childhood memory that I will always cherish is spending time with my entire family on Christmas Eve. For me it is like the song says, “it’s the most wonderful time of the year”. I am part of a family of four generations who all live in New York within fifteen minutes of each other and this was a choice that was made so we would always be nearby. We have each other while the rest of my family still resides in Italy. I feel that this is even more reason that we are such a close family. Even though we come together for pasta dinner every Sunday, Christmas Eve together is extra special. For as long as I can remember there was excitement leading up to this special holiday.
Preparations are already in the works bright and early on the morning of Christmas Eve. Reminiscing that is how it has always started. Up as the sun rises to the smell of sweet cookies and pies that fill the house. I can almost taste the baked treats thinking of it right now. These are recipes that have been passed down to nonna Palmerina, my great-grandmother, which is made from scratch that she also taught to my grandmother, nonna Lina, and my mom. The kitchen was a busy place all day long and even though I was hungry there was no time to sit and eat a meal. However I did manage to eat a warm cookie that was fresh out of the oven on my way out to the yard to bring in our potted Christmas tree. It is a Blue Spruce that nonno Giovanni, my grandfather, had given us many years ago when we celebrated our first Christmas in our new home. Together my brother, Antonio, and cousin, Maurizio, set up the ramp at the back door and gently wheeled in the potted tree into the center of the family room. The scent of pine was refreshing, bringing in a little winter into the house.
While my mom, aunt, grandmother, and great-grandmother were busy cooking in the kitchen; my dad, brother, uncle, grandfather, and nonno Libero, my great-grandfather, were busy putting the lights on the tree. We used multicolored lights that flashed on and off giving the look of twinkling stars. I enjoyed watching the reflections of the different colors bounce off the tree. Then we had the job of hanging the ornaments. We hung most of them but not all. Each person in our family, no matter how young or how old, hung a special ornament that made the tree complete. I remember my grandfather taking so much pride in decorating the tree and when it was done the Christmas tree looked perfect. I’m sure that this holiday is his favorite too. Enjoying every part of it, the decorating became a special tradition.
My great-grandmother, who is the sweetest and most loving person that I have ever known shares her love by baking cookies and making fried zeppole. I would always look forward to sprinkling powdered sugar on that special treat before I ate it. My grandmother was busy cooking many entrees of different types of fish. She also made spaghetti with olive oil and garlic. That was for my mom who doesn’t like to eat fish. My mom and aunt helped with all of the cooking and cleaning, and decorated the table for a feast later that night. My great-grandfather brought up the homemade wine that he made the year before in the cellar and sliced the baked bread and cheeses while my grandfather played the accordion. My brother, cousin, and I brought up the chairs and whatever else we were asked to do to help out. Everyone had a part to do and everything was special because it was all done with great love.
Dinner is finally here after the sun goes down and we gather anxiously around the table looking forward to taste a little of everything. Many of these foods are only made on Christmas Eve so it is very special. We eat, we talk, we laugh, and we take pictures that were also snapped throughout the day to capture the memories. After we enjoy a delicious meal, we prepare the table to play Tombola, an Italian bingo game that we play for coins. There are five winners in each game so my grandmother sets up the prizes which are five stacks of coins. Later we play Scoba, an Italian card game with the same Italian cards we have always used. It is funny how someone always needs to be reminded of how much the card with the horse is valued. As a family we play and have a lot of fun. Games continue until midnight and then it is time for more snacks before it is time for gift giving all the while talking and laughing and enjoying the moment.
Then, as the celebration goes into Christmas Day we gather all together in the family room and begin opening gifts for each other still talking and laughing and taking pictures. This Christmas was extra special because not one of us was tired and we were all truly enjoying our time together. Even after opening gifts we continued the celebration by eating a piece of Pandoro, an Italian cake in the early morning hours. Then there were many ‘thank you’s, ‘I love you’s, hugs and kisses as it was time to retire to our beds to relax from all the excitement of the day. This holiday I will remember to be the best day that I will forever cherish.
The most important part of Christmas Eve is not only being surrounded by my family but the love and respect we have for each other that can be felt with every word spoken and action made. Yes when I was a child I am sure I was just thinking about the gifts but I know the importance of the gift of family and God’s blessings in being the most important part of it. This past Christmas Eve was the most meaningful of my life so far that I have ever experienced. I feel blessed to have been part of this entire family and especially having great-grandparents who I learned from and watched me grow. Sharing these special times with my family consisting of four generations is the most amazing gift in itself.
My memory of Christmas Eve only continues to grow by realizing the most important gifts are the gifts that can’t be bought but are the gifts of great love and happiness. Christmas Eve celebrates the importance of family that allows these precious gifts to grow. Each member of my family has taught me something, whether it is big or small, it is still a part of me. Celebrating this holiday with my family is a tradition that I will continue as I go through my journey of life. The traditions were important in the past and are important now. It is important to keep traditions going on from generation to generation so that special memories will never be forgotten while new ones will be made.