Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Chestnuts roasting on an open fire…oil dripping from your chin.

Tavern on the Green?
When I was little, Christmas Day was spent at my Grandma and Papa’s house.

They had a finished basement with wrought iron and wood paneling. For Christmas dinner they would haul out borrowed folding chairs, long card tables covered with white tablecloths (and when they ran out of linens - bed sheets) and candlesticks - in my ten-year-old eyes, suddenly the basement was transformed into a five star restaurant.

Grandma and Pops would host around 30 people for Christmas dinner, which consisted of pans and pans of baked ziti, meatballs, beef, pork, sausage and braciole all simmering in my grandfathers Sunday gravy. Whenever I am asked, “If you were on death row and could have a last meal, what would it be?” I don’t even have to think twice, this is the meal I would have – my kick-ass 1970’s Christmas dinner.

Although I was much too young to partake at the time, Christmas also warranted lots of jug wine, beer, and various other spirits, which made it all the more fun, and all the more loud.

We are Italian, so we are naturally that way, but load us up with presents, booze, food, and the birth of our savior and oh boy, just wait for the volume to go up.

My cousin John-John could play any musical instrument that you handed to him; he would usually play the organ while my mother accompanied him on my flute. We would sing Christmas carols and other holiday classics like “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” and “Hail, Hail, the Gang’s All Here.” If we were really lucky my Grandma would bust into a rousing tipsy version of “Stormy Weather.” Merry Christmas!

John-John, me attempting Silent Night, and Mom showing off her flute skills.

My grandfather did most of the cooking, Grandma was his sous chef. There was one dish she did make, an extra-special dish that was only brought out at Christmastime. It didn’t have a name - we simply referred to it as what it was - “oily oranges.” It was sliced oranges on a platter doused in olive oil, sprinkled with black pepper. I thought it was a holiday dish that everyone enjoyed on Christmas Day, but I have never met anyone else who as a child simultaneously had orange juice and olive oil dripping down their chins. least I was getting in a serving of fruit.

The hosts with the mosts.

It was the typical big family gathering, everyone talking, nobody listening, songs being sung and presents being furiously unwrapped. My brother Mike and I would make out like bandits with all of the aunts, uncles, and cousins that we had. And when a gift wasn’t given, a five or ten spot was sneakily palmed off to one of us.

I owned a tape deck, the kind with a microphone that plugged into it so you could make recordings – on Christmas these tapes got really good. Usually I would just record myself singing “Tomorrow” from Annie but now I had a basement full of worthy subjects wanting to talk, sing, and be interviewed by yours truly.

Between courses of endless food Mike and I would play in my Aunt’s room with our cousins JJ, Michael and Melissa. Missy and I would sneak up into the attic and try on all of my grandma’s old fancy duds, fur wraps, hats and gloves. Heaven.

Topless Tree.

Grandma and Pops had a weird little fake tabletop Christmas tree. It was weird because this tree had no top; maybe that part had been lost throughout the years, I’m not sure. The tree was the same, year after year with giant red balls and blinding gold garland. Grandma made up for the lack of a point on top with one of those pointy red tree toppers. It is weird to put a tree topper on a tree with no top, but she made it work.

Dessert was platters of cookies and cannolis from the bakery on the corner, along with a sticky, sweet dessert called struffoli which was gooey balls of fried dough in a honey-like glaze with sprinkles on top. This would of course be the dessert that would go along with my death row meal.

My Christmas memories revolve around the things that are still important to me today. Family, tradition, and of course - food. If the oranges didn’t have olive oil on them or if the Christmas tree had a top to it, Christmas just wouldn’t be the same.

Time to go open up the jug wine and eat a meatball – Merry Christmas.

Totally remember this Christmas Day outfit.
And getting this Rubik's Cube - hell yeah!


  1. I want to go back in time and be your twin sister. <3

  2. Yes Mame, I wish you were! Oh Lord, the trouble we would have gotten into...