Some of my greatest childhood memories were of the Christmas Eve celebrations at my parent's home. Christmas Eve was special because it was one of the few times of the year that my mother's big Italian side of the family would gather together. It was also special because it was my father's birthday.
Every year around 50 people filled my parent's little ranch home. Neighbors and friends were also welcomed, whom otherwise had no place to go that evening. On that day they became, "family."
In the wee hours of the morning, my mom would begin her preparations. The kitchen was her domain. I remember awakening to the crisp sound of olive oil hitting the pans that draped her stove, and the aroma of smelts fumigating the air.
My mother did all of the cooking. Her spaghetti with clam sauce, lasagna, chicken parm. and antipasta where her staple items. And, of course, baskets were lined with loaves of my Uncle Carmen's famous Italian bread.
The party would take place in my parent's basement; which my mom decorated with red tablecloths and tattered Christmas ornaments. Nothing fancy, but it felt warm and inviting.
Before the party, (and for all of us to get out of my mom's hair), we attended the evening mass at our church, Blessed Sacrament. The place was always packed, with the twice a year Christmas, and Easter churchgoers. Our weekly seat was always occupied by an unforeseen family. Dad always did manage to find us a seat, even if we were all crushed together like sardines. None of us seemed to mind, we were just glad to have a seat. I can still smell the frankincense that was lavished upon all of us by the priests as they made their way to the altar, and the beautiful sounds of the choir that echoed in our old church.
When we returned home, mom had everything done with the help of my Grandma Prinzo. I truly remember the excitement as each person arrived. Everyone was greeted with a hug and kiss. Italians are so affectionate. Still to this day, I would never think of greeting or leaving a family or friend without a hug or kiss. I am so thankful for this trait that they passed along to me. Everyone who entered our home was made to feel as if they were the most important person in the room upon their arrival.
My greatest moments of the evening were shared with my Grandma Prinzo, the family matriarch. Anyone who had ever met her knew that they were in the presence of an angel. She was a stout woman, who always wore a dress. She radiated love to everyone around her. Today, I would give anything to have one more minute embraced in her warm loving arms.
Christmas Eve is much different now...Filled with new and beautiful memorable traditions. Most of my cousins have families of their own now. Sadly, many of my aunts and uncles have passed on, but our times together on Christmas Eve will always hold a special place in my heart.
My mom still puts on a huge Italian feast every Christmas Eve, but it has scaled down a bit, to just her own children and grandchildren. One thing I do notice is how my two son's eyes sparkle when they talk about going to Grandma's and Grandpa's for an Italian Christmas.