During my childhood I don’t ever remember celebrating Christmas in our home. It was always at my maternal nonna’s, like almost every Sunday. There was no way we could celebrate with our other nonna, Madeline, as she was across the ocean on Via Lunga in Licata, Sicily. On the east side of Cleveland, everyone gathered at nonna Mary’s bungalow and celebrated in her downstairs kitchen which was decked out with a long table and many chairs. Nonna was in command and the aunts followed through with her orders and desires. The men, including nonno Charles and my uncles and some first cousins, were at the table – prepped to enjoy the lineup of entrée courses. It seemed to me, and my sister, Maggie, that the ladies were last to sit and eat.
Talk about eating. It was no great sight watching nonno digging into tiny shells with a toothpick. Out came these creatures and I certainly couldn’t believe anyone enjoying eating a snail; little did I know the escargot were considered a classic and pricey delicacy. This pasta eater wasn’t sold on the tiny morsels or the “scuma” with the cleaned-out bones that would make the table later.
Most of the Christmas decorations were upstairs. They included the Christmas tree with its shining delicate round ornaments. The tree was always balsam. There was no such thing as Scotch or White Pine, Fraser or Doug Fur. They weren’t traditional and didn’t come from the outdoor tables of the Central Market. Here and there on the balsam an ornament would fall and shatter into tiny sparkling pieces.
As for toys, my sister and I were never loaded up with gift wrapped packages. Sometimes she got dolls…other times, a table and chairs. I once got an electric train, but that disappeared quickly. My mother thought I could get electrocuted. My sister and I received money envelopes from uncles, aunts, cousins, and family friends, which we greatly appreciated.
Food and gifts aside, I liked the fact that we stayed up late and watched the ladies play bingo with their pennies and the men deal their favorite card game, “Tonk.”
Christmas had a special charm like no other celebration in the year. Good food and traditions were an important part of the festivities. It was the holiday that everyone shared in and we all knew each other’s names – people we saw all throughout the year. It was a holiday brightened by countless blessings; notably, nonna Mary always giving thanks to “Gesu.”