For many years now, our traditional Christmas celebration has remained the same. We do not observe the Italian custom of the "seven fish dinner" on Christmas Eve, mainly because our two principal cooks are not fish lovers. We do eat like the world was coming to an end however, with my sister-in-law Paula cooking on Christmas Eve, and my wife Jasmine cooking on Christmas Day. We do most of our present opening on the Eve, with a few "Santa" presents opened Christmas morning, a practice carried over from when the kids were little and I would drag the old Super 8 movie camera with the "jailbreak" floodlight out of the closet. As the kids got older, they grew to hate that bright light in their eyes first thing in the morning, but I will always treasure those flickering memories of their reactions to getting those special toys on their Santa list.
Our decorations have a tradition too. In 43 years of marriage, we have accumulated enough Christmas stuff to deck out a small mall. With a few minor variations, the method for putting them up over the years has not changed. Maybe ten years ago, I stopped decorating the outside of the house because it got too cold. Instead I put a lighted wreath in every window so that they are visible from outside. It gives the house an old-fashioned Christmassy look, and allows me to put up the wreaths in the comfort of my warm home, with Christmas carols playing in the background, and my Drambuie on the rocks within easy reach.
One of our oldest traditions is the "name balls". We hang red Christmas balls with the name of each family member written on them in white along the stair railing in the living room. As our children have married, and grandchildren have begun to arrive, each new family addition gets his or her red ball added to the collection. The old fashioned balls are very fragile and break easily, but thanks to the miracle of science, they now make unbreakable Christmas balls that you can actually bounce. This is our own silly tradition, but it has become a regular part of our decorating scheme, and Christmas would not seem the same without it.
We also have a "Santa shrine", really a collection of every Christmas Santa we've ever received, arranged on the top of a living room cabinet. It's amazing what variety there is, with Santas in every shape and size. Some of these Santas have been with us nearly as long as we've been married. Others have special meaning like the pins with pictures of our kids visiting Santa when they were young, or the firefighter Santa that reminds us of our son Michael's service as a Lieutenant in the FDNY. It seems only fitting to honor the old
gentleman, who has the power to make naughty kids nice, even if its only for a month.
Then there is the music box table. My wife said once that she liked Christmas music boxes, and there followed a steady stream of them into our collection. So, every year, we clear off the coffee table in the living room and put this collection on display. I think my personal favorite is the "White Christmas" box that plays the song from the Bing Crosby movie of the same name. The song and the movie have become holiday staples, and I associate them closely with my childhood. Other familiar theme boxes include Santa's Workshop, Frosty the Snowman, and Winnie the Pooh.
I can't forget the Nutcracker collection. Somehow, like my wife's music boxes, I began to receive different themed Nutcracker statuettes. These were inspired mainly by the Balanchine ballet based on the E.T.A. Hoffman story of a young German girl who dreams of a Nutcracker Prince and a fierce battle against a Mouse King. I came to like the Nutcracker figurines, some of which are functional and can actually crack nuts, but most of which are purely decorative. We often go to Lincoln Center to see the ballet performed at Christmas time, so its only natural that the Nutcracker collection is part of our holiday.
I saved the best for last. Some years ago, we switched from an artificial Christmas tree to a real one. The switch coincided with the removal of the wall-to-wall carpeting from our living room. No longer hampered by carpeting that swallowed pine needles that were still turning up in July, we began buying magnificent, floor-to-ceiling real trees from a local vendor. He charges a few bucks more than Home Depot, but his trees are worth it. Our collection of decorations has grown over the years, as ornaments have become more and more elaborate. We have our share of those, but our favorites are the ones made by the kids out of pop sticks, pipe cleaners and paint.
It's easy to become Scrooge-like, as life can sometimes pile on the burdens, but Christmas should be the season when we set our cares aside and thank God for our health and our families. Here's wishing you a blessed and happy Christmas.
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