When the last burnished Autumn leaves float effortlessly to the frosted ground sounding like cinnamon hot cocoa, Christmas memories join anticipation heralding the arrival of my favorite time of the year – Christmas. A glorious season I observe with food, decorating, celebrations, and, most important, family and friends. Time for our family members to return home, come together once again, and make new holiday memories while remembering our past Christmases, including our cherished holiday traditions.
Oh, how I love Christmas traditions even as a very young child. The Christmases of my childhood were filled with excitement waking up Christmas morning to find our living room magically transformed into a beautiful Christmas scene while we children were soundly sleeping in our beds. My parents would wait until after we went to bed to decorate the biggest tree my dad could find, then lovingly, they wrapped all our gifts during the early morning hours, getting no sleep before we excitedly woke to see if Santa had visited our home. We were never disappointed when we all flew into the living room to see that, yes, Santa had been hard at work throughout the night. I can still feel my excitement stepping into the living room, my breath held tightly as I viewed with wonder fill child eyes the beautiful Christmas tree decorated by my mother. Mother crafted her tree so each light, ornament, and how can I forget that tacky silver tinsel – placed strand by strand – was in perfect harmony. I adored seeing the tree for the first time each year!
I learned from my parents that Christmas was a special time to share with family and friends as a steady stream of guests visited our home. One of my favorite Christmas memories happened on a cold snowy Christmas morning when I was nine years old. We had just finished opening our presents when there was a knock at our door. My Dad opened the door to find a group of family friends who braved the snow-covered roads, barely making it up the steep hill leading to our home, for a Christmas morning visit. My parents graciously welcomed their guests even at six o’clock in the morning with food and hot coffee. After our guests were fed, warmed, and enjoying my parent’s famous hospitality, I played Christmas songs on the piano with everyone robustly singing along! That Christmas morning so long ago lives forever in my heart.
As I became older, I actively participated in our family traditions, going with my Dad to purchase our tree; I decorated our tree throughout our home, helping my mother bake copious amounts of cookies for our guests to enjoy during Christmas visits. My mother, an accomplished cook, and baker, gave me the important responsibility of making Pizzelles with my grandmother’s cast iron pizzelle mold. First, she made the dough from my grandmother’s special recipe passed down through generations. Next, my important two-fold role was putting just the right amount of dough on the hot pizzelle mold and then standing over the stove burner, making sure that I turned the mold over at just the right second to ensure that each pizzella was perfectly thin and crisp to Mother’s exact specifications.
All my cherished Christmas memories return to me each December as I await the return home of my grown family to share in our holiday festivities. I to deck the halls just as I learned from my Mother. Christmas starts for me the day after Thanksgiving, not with shopping on Black Friday, but with decorating. When our children were young, their Christmas gifts to me were festive Lenox Christmas china for holiday entertaining. Every year my decorating starts with displaying my Christmas china in the dining room china cabinet. Like crisp New England mornings with a dusting of snow, seeing Christmas china in the cabinet signals to our family the Christmas holiday season has begun. Now I decorate throughout our home with abandonment while memories of Christmases past live again, flowing back to me as I lovingly unwrap so many special decorations, including the beautiful nativity figurines that my mother made us for our first Christmas. Once each room is thoroughly dressed in Christmas finery, I can focus on baking Christmas cookies. I still make Pizzelles with my grandmother’s monogrammed mold, part of her trousseaux, using my family’s special recipe, perfectly thin and crisp as my mother taught me so long ago. According to my family, my baking takes mythical proportions, with the rumor circulating through our family that I actually bake thousands of cookies! Never having counted my cookies, I only know that tin after tin magically appears lining the shelves of my pantry where pounds of flour, sugar, chocolate, nuts, and preserves formerly resided. Each year my cookie assortment contains old favorites as well as new recipes that I can’t resist adding to my cookie collection. Trays of cookies greet guests as they visit, with the remaining cookies packed in holiday tins for family and friends near and far.
Preserving my maternal family’s traditional Christmas Eve dinner celebration, I serve the Italian Feast of seven fishes, Festa dei sette pesci, in honor of my grandmother Theresa. Christmas day finds our home, just like my childhood home, decked in holiday finery, doors open wide, welcoming family and friends for festive merrymaking. Gathering around our large table, enjoying Christmas dinner, we toast with gratitude our good fortunes, especially that we are all together to celebrate another special Christmas. After our guests leave, I sit by the fire savoring the day as memories of Christmas’s past play in my mind like a cherished old movie.
Like Scrooge, I can only hope that my epitaph will be, “She knew how to keep Christmas well!”