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For "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree"

I love the month of December. It has always been a big month in my family. Besides my birthday and my brother’s birthday, we have a slew of family birthdays, events, and then of course there is Christmas Eve and Christmas Day ( Those are two separate celebrations for us including different foods and sides of the family. One of the great things about this time of year is that most of what we do and how we do it falls back on our traditions. There is something so comforting, complex, and celebratory about that.

As we get older and busier the time seems to fly by. I hate when I feel like Thanksgiving sneaks up on us and then we are rushed into the holiday season. I hate it because I know before we are ready to prepare for it, it will be here, and will pass before we even get to enjoy it. The more responsibilities we have and the more we have to do for the holidays makes the time go even faster. But I want to always make sure that the parts I hold near and dear to my heart never fade away as I work hard to include new traditions each year. Even as I curse and complain and walk around sleep deprived and migraine ridden, when I look back I know I will be happy and satisfied that my loved ones had a merry and a bright Christmas.

So what is it that we do that I love so much? Well for starters there is Christmas Eve. As Italian-Americans this is almost the more important day. I know when my mother was small her mother and aunts were making pasta from scratch and serving the traditional “seven fishes” meals. Then it was off to midnight mass and then back to open presents. Cousins and siblings alike all spend the night together in the same house making it a big affair and one that sounds like a magical time for any child.

During my childhood Christmas Eve was always a holiday we spend at home in Brooklyn. It is the day when everyone saw their in-laws so that one whole side of the family (in my case my mother’s) could gather the next day. I grew up with my mother and grandmother cooking and frying fish and my house and it smelled for days. But there is something about eating the same food on the same day with the same people that creates a special memory. For as long as I can remember I spend this very Italian meal with my Irish cousins as it is my favorite Godfather’s birthday as well. We have songs we love to hear and wait all year long to celebrate together.

My favorite Christmas song is by Brenda Lee from 1958, and was featured in the original Home Alone movie:

Another standard in my house is:

Now that we are older we are varying what and where we eat but who we eat with will never change. We are the Christmas Eve crew. It makes me smile every time I think of it, that even though the “kids” are now in their twenties and thirties we still look forward to this day and making it a priority to be together.

As Christmas Eve draws to a close and the clean up begins, we wait until midnight but it is usually later, and then we exchange presents just the four of us: my mother, father, brother, and I. It is by far my most favorite part. I work so hard on finding the most creative gift ideas and how to present them ( and I love to see the look on everyone’s face as they open them. I watch carefully to see if they have figured it out yet, and with camera in hand, I look through the lens to watch the tears, screams, and laughter. Those moments are priceless.

By the time we wrap things up it is already well into the wee hours of Christmas Day, luckily with no small children to wake for I can sleep in a bit. I usually don’t get to make the fancy breakfast I always envision and by the time I am ready I am out the door to Long Island. On this day we are eating all day long and it starting early!

It has become increasingly important to me to cook around the holidays. My Thanksgivings are becoming more and more out of control. I love to make a meal of many courses with everything starting from scratch. It is another way of showing love to your family. It is also a great sense of pride. Around Christmas I have less time to cook but I always make sure to bake my now standard butterscotch gingerbread cookies. This year I tried popcorn cookies and they were a hit. I guess those are going in my repertoire too. Sometimes you need something simple and that’s when I break out the pumpkin pie although I have to admit I didn’t make the crust this time. In terms of the main meal I made Alton Brown’s macaroni and cheese, which I am really enjoying lately. I had only first tried it this past Thanksgiving. It never hurts to have more than one mac and cheese recipe on hand. When I cook for myself I make a mean mac and cheese with brie and whole wheat pasta.

Now that the holidays are coming to a close with the New Year celebration this past week, I would like to cook more, try new recipes out, and share them with friends and family who are visiting. It feels like this is the time of year for it, which, is the best reason for a holiday that I can think of.

To quote Ms. Brenda Lee, I hope everyone had “a happy holiday….dancin' merrily, in the new old-fashioned way.”


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