Thursday, December 25, 2008

Christmas Traditions

Following on Mark's previous post, let me share some Christmas traditions that we observe, some ethnically rooted ones that we want to continue, others simply things that we have done for some reason or another.

First off, Christmas Eve dinner is a seafood feast. It is my understanding that there is a traditional Italian 7-fish meal on this day, to include calamari, baccala, smelts, and other fish. This wasn't one that we celebrated rigorously growing up; we were aware of its existence and observed a version that eliminated the fish that we didn't care much for. And so it continues: we had stuffed squid (calamari sounds so much better!), mussels, and shrimp to go along with antipasto, pasta, and a wonderful Amaretto cake for dessert.

We went to Mass at 6:30. This isn't a tradition so much as a preference. We tried midnight Mass when the twins were younger and we were in New York, but that often became an exercise in heavy lifting and precarious carrying of precious cargo across an icy parking lot before bringing them upstairs and putting them to bed. The older I get, the less the idea of staying up past my bedtime and lugging slumbering kids around appeals to me. Mass at 6:30 following dinner at about 5 worked out well.

One tradition that I never embraced was my wife's family's tradition of saving the wrapping of gifts for Christmas Eve. She and her mother, and later her younger sister, would stay up to the wee hours, chit-chatting and getting the gifts ready. I would invariably disappoint Angela by fading away well before the last present was wrapped (and often shortly after the first one was!). We now wrap as we go, with a few stragglers that we knock out before midnight. We put them out beneath the tree after the kids have fallen asleep, and then quickly get to bed so that Santa won't catch us not sleeping at the appointed hour.

Christmas morning varies, with the kids no longer the earliest risers. I was up before 5 this morning, then went back to sleep for a bit. We heard the giddy rantings of the kids upstairs (the tree is in the loft) around 6, and went up soon thereafter. Emmy, though, was still in the bathroom, so we had to wait a bit for the unwrapping to begin. I am reminded of my sister Carolyn's insistence that the gift distribution and unwrapping be done according to rules that she alone knew but compliance with which she demanded of all. This came to be known as "Buffy Protocol". We are a whole lot laxer in our system: someone grabs a box, sees whose name is on it, and gives it to them to open. If someone is starting to feel left out, then we will make a search for a specific box, but this doesn't happen too often. Angela mans the trash bags and puts the discarded wrappings into the bags at once. I work the camera. There is the usual situation where one of the younger ones will want to go past unwrapping to unpacking and using the gift, and the older siblings and/or parents issuing a cease and desist order. The last thing we want is a game or toy with multiple parts on the floor by the tree with lots of foot traffic and the possibility of something getting accidentally discarded.

We had a nice breakfast, usually featuring, as it did this morning, Italian Christmas cookies that Angela has made. We package up cookies for delivery to friends and neighbors; we usually do this in the days before Christmas. Luca and I made the last two deliveries last night to neighbors who weren't around on the first pass. One tradition that we skipped this year is the awarding of popcorn (we have to buy some for Scouts, so this is a way to distribute it - we always buy more than we really want) to households with great Christmas light displays. We'll have to get back to that next year. During the day, we watch movies when not playing with the new loot. "A Christmas Story" is a perennial favorite; one of these years we will make it to the house in Cleveland where it was filmed.

So those are some of the things that we did this year and try to do every year. Angela wonders how non-Italians can enjoy the season without the culinary customs that we have. She is reminded of Joe Paterno's mother's comment when he told her that things were getting serious with the German girl he had been dating: "How you gonna eat?!" Oh yeah, the "big gifts" of the year: Gabe - electric guitar with amp; Luca - red iPod nano; Dom - PlayStation 3. Emmy got lots of clothes; I am not sure what qualifies as the "big" gift.

A very good day. Merry Christmas to all. And to all a good night.

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