Today I have officially been thirty-four for exactly one week and one day. I am getting use to that number and wearing it like a badge of honor.
At the same time I have been trying to turn my focus on the other celebrations I had going on this week. For starters it was my brother’s birthday two days after mine and we had plenty of people around to share it with.
Christmas Eve was here just a moment ago, actual less than two hours ago. It also happens to be my godfather’s birthday. Then on Christmas Day we celebrate the big man’s birthday.
All of the celebration’s planning and gift-wrapping seems to have occurred without me paying close attention to detail this year. I know I have said this before but I will say it again, the year has flown by. I hope this is not a sign of me acting my age but I do like the sight of the lights that lit up the dark “winter” nights. Although with this heat wave, it’s the hottest Christmas on record now, it certainly isn’t helping me feel like its time to be merry and bright.
Last year on Christmas I shared my family’s traditions (see link below). This year I have been thinking about them and wondering where they originated. I feel like the older I get the more questions I have about family, our history, and especially the traditions we continue to pass down. I wish I had this inquisitive nature when I was younger and had my grandparents still around me. There is so much that I feel I do not know and have to rely on second hand information.
With this in mind I decided I needed to know more about our Christmas Eve rituals. Actually it took a coworker asking me for me to decide to research it.
I know that my mother’s family (my Italian side) always celebrated Christmas Eve in a big way. It was always a holiday despite what the calendar and my job think. For us it evolved into a tradition of who we see and what we do. We go to church, have a big dinner, unwrap gifts, and lastly celebrate my godfather’s birth. It is ironic to me know to remember that my mother’s father was born on this day, even though I didn’t know him. I also know my father’s mother (also who I didn’t know) died on this day. Thus for many reasons it is a sacred day in my family.
In terms of the food I know we always eat fish, never meat. We also hold off on the marinara sauce until Christmas Day. On this occasion it is usually spaghetti and clam sauce or garlic and oil. This year we are having a special treat and beginning our meal (you know after appetizers) with Julia Child’s French onion soup. That is a recipe I love and now we incorporate into Thanksgiving. Having it on Christmas Eve allows us to mix it up a little.
Italian-Americans everywhere have heard of the “seven fishes”. Apparently that is the number we need to have during our feast to properly celebrate. I don’t believe we ever had that amount in my house but that was mostly because we didn’t all like too many varieties. So even though the number and types vary from family to family it is a familiar saying.
I had no idea why it the feast of seven fishes originated and neither did my mother. When I looked into it, it appears no one else had the answers either. Mario Batali informs me that this is strictly an Italian-American thing, this is not known in Italy. How interesting. He also says it varies from family to family. There is no set rule. Some people have seven fishes to reflect the number of holy sacraments. Some have twelve to honor the apostles. Seven is the most common number in the Bible, another suggestion of how that number was chosen. Officially this celebration is also known as La Viglia and ends after attending midnight mass, which I have done once or twice. It’s kind of nice to do something different.
After considering my personal family history on Christmas I found it fascinating to open my mind and think back to the beginning. I found this picture taken in 1931 when the very first tree was brought to N.Y.C. and placed at a site that was completely under construction. The workers that moved it decorated with what they had handy like cranberries and tin cans. I think it is impressive. Everything and everyone really does have a past to explore.
Another magical site is from this year at the White House. It looks like Santa and his glam squad worked their butts off.
Despite the sneaky way in which this holiday crept up on me I am looking forward to it. Picturing the Yule log on the television for hours as we open presents in the morning and then seeing it again at my relative’s house makes me smile. Sometimes it really is the little things.
Kids are really the ones who make this holiday all that it is meant to be. They are the most fun to shop for and the most fun to watch as they open their presents. I think nowadays that’s where I find the most joy not that I don’t love the adult times we spend drinking, eating, and laughing. No matter what it will end up being a full weekend of visiting friends in town and catching up with family. It is like the world takes a break so you can reach out and touch someone’s soul.
Of course yesterday morning after another night of insomnia I was cranky getting up so early. I also was cranky trying to get organized all week. I hate feeling pressured to have a celebration. But then I think of all the reasons that I have to celebrate, especially the small things I am lucky to witness everyday.
I am determined to use this as another day to do good for others beginning now. Shopping for items that give back to charity is just one easy way to do it. I also would like it if someone would donate money in my name to my favorite charity instead of giving me a birthday and/or Christmas present. Lord knows I have more than my fair share despite what I say when I am annoyed. Even in my worst moods I know how preciously fast and cruel this life can be.
This year I am especially thankful and happy that I get to spend Christmas with my Uncle Dennis. Dennis- this one’s for you!!! You better have your shirt on tomorrow!!
After all: “This is As Merry As We Get!”
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