Italian Family Christmas
Essay finalist in the 2016 ‘Basket of Cheer’ Contest | Grade 10
Christmastime in most families is a time filled with traditions.
Some traditions have been practiced for many generations, some only a few years. Some traditions are commonly seen in many households, and some are more unique. In our family, we have a handful of traditions.
On the first Sunday of Advent, we like to participate in an Advent wreath making event at our church. My father and I bake cookies and other confections all day on Christmas Eve, which are to be enjoyed later in the evening as we watch a Christmas film.
Although these activities are wonderfully fun, my favorite is far simpler. Every Christmas, my Italian family from my grandmother’s side gathers in my great Aunt Jo’s house for an Italian feast. It’s a very casual gathering.
We all eat, talk, eat. It may not sound like much. It may sound like something you can do any time of the year, but this meal is special. Sitting in my great Aunt’s house is something we have done every Christmas I can remember. I love this simple family gathering, and I am pleased to explain why.
There is a common belief about Christmas, a sentence you will frequently hear. The saying goes like this: “Christmas is about family.” Although more false things can be said about Christmas, this saying really is not true. Christmas is about the birth of the savior Jesus Christ, a simple, yet beautiful, event in history.
On this beautiful day in history, the world was in a state of peace and serenity. Everyone and everything felt at ease. Christmas day still feels that peaceful and serene to me, and peace and love make this day such a wonderful day to spend time with family.
On this one day during the year, my loved ones and I can gather peacefully and forget about our quarrels and problems. So, although Christmas is not about family, it is the perfect day to be celebrated with your family.
Every Christmas day, since my first Christmas, my family and I have headed to Aunt Jo’s in the late afternoon. My great grandmother Adelina apparently used to host this event, and she passed the tradition to Aunt Jo’, which is short for Josephine.
On Christmas day, my family exchanges gifts, and then we go to Mass. After we have spent time at home, we all get into the car and leave for Aunt Jo’s. When we arrive and walk through the door, a crowd of people is waiting to greet us.
We find ourselves surrounded and being hugged by every person in the living room. Many shouts of “Merry Christmas!” can be heard ringing throughout the house. People start flooding out of the kitchen in the back as they hear someone has arrived. Aunt Jo’ comes out from her kitchen to welcome us into her home and to take our coats. The noises and greetings eventually settle; the evening is just beginning.
When we finally make our way to the kitchen and dining area, a wonderful array of Italian cuisine can be seen. Bowls of olives, fresh mozzarella from a local Italian deli, and many other appetizers sit on the table. The smells of homemade lasagna, meatballs, and tortellini fragrance the air. Big dishes filled with food lay all over the countertop. The oven, with food baking inside, warms the home like a heater.
Baskets filled with a variety of Christmas cookies are scattered throughout the adjoining room. A little radio and, sometimes, Andrea Bocelli albums sing songs of Christmas. Aunt Jo’ immediately begins handing out plates and serving food. Soon enough, everyone has overflowing plates.
The adults have glasses of wine, while the children sip on soda. No one goes hungry in this little room, and it would be impolite not to eat. This family gathering is about so much more than a good meal. While the food may steal the spotlight, this night has much more in store.
More people arrive. The seats at the table in the kitchen quickly fill up. Some people descend into the basement, where a casual buffet style meal is set up. People will dish their food and relax in the lounging area. Others who have finished eating may sit in the living room by the Christmas tree. Whatever room you are in, be it the kitchen, basement, or living room, there is delightful conversation.
The children excitedly display gifts they received earlier that morning. Soon, the children pester Aunt Jo’ about the cookies, and she instructs them to take as many as they please. Brothers, sisters, and cousins who may have been quarreling are seen laughing and talking to each other.
Some family members have not seen each other since the last Christmas, but they chatter as if they had been talking the whole year. This Christmas at Aunt Jo’s always somehow heals wounds and grudges we never thought might heal.
The peace Christmas brings to the world is showcased in this warm, welcoming scene. That is what is so beautiful about this meal. There is a sense of unity, togetherness, and warmth that can sometimes be lost on us all.
Everyone seems to forget what they were upset about with each other. It’s almost funny, some of the things that may have caused people to stop talking. Sometimes, they even laugh about it, and they forgive each other with a loving embrace.
At the end of the evening, when our dishes are cleaned and our stomachs far too full, we are all united once again. We grab our coats and things from the little coat room, and we say our goodbyes. It is a bittersweet moment. Everyone is so joyous and loving, which makes it difficult to leave.
After the long chain of goodbyes, we exit the little house. As we are driving on the road, illuminated by Christmas lights, we are blissful and happy, and we can’t wait until this time next year.
We haven’t had this meal at Aunt Jo’s for three years now. Aunt Jo’s health has made it impossible for her to prepare the huge meal. Our Italian family gets smaller every year. The importance of this tradition that great Grandma Adelina started many years ago is not lost on us.
We feel lucky to be a family who understands the value of this special time spent with family. Even though there is no longer a big family gathering each year at Aunt Jo’s, we still contact each other every Christmas.
We feel all families should try to do the same. The feeling of unconditional love that comes from family is a beautiful feeling. We are all thankful for this beautiful family tradition, the tradition of love.
Dedicated to our dear Josephine DiMarino, who passed away this Sunday. Thank you.
About Lisa Gray
Lisa Gray is the fourth of six children, and is the youngest girl. Outside of school, she takes ballet classes three nights a week, and spends even more time at the studio rehearsing for upcoming performances. She also enjoys baking and cooking, and frequently experiments with new recipes. She is considering making one, or both of these hobbies her professional career one day. Lisa lives in Baltimore, and likes to visit local places when she can. One of these includes a diner, where a deacon from her church frequently eats. When the weather is nicer, Lisa likes to go hiking with members of her family and their pet dog. She also likes to garden. If the weather is dreary, she might crochet, knit, sew, draw, or play a game of Scrabble with her father. Lisa wants learn more about these hobbies, particularly dance, as well as musical theatre, and singing.