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25 Dec

Wish I had something new for you, but I don’t. However, wanted to maintain the tradition of posting one of most popular writings about Christmas.

I wish you all a wonderful holiday season, and Merry Christmas, and a promising new year!


            My father was the sixth child of seven,  and as such, never went to the bathroom until his older sisters went to college.  That of course has nothing to do with the fact that his father was a retail food merchant, and was very busy around Christmas time.  Because of that, Christmas in his house was always pretty hectic, and there wasn’t always time for decorating or tree trimming or anything like that.  My father vowed that when he had a family, he was going to make up for lost time.  Christmas was going to be the high point of the year, every year, for the rest of his life, and his family was going to have a jolly holiday, dammit, even if it killed us.  And a couple times, decorating our house almost did.

            Things didn’t start off out of control.  My family’s Christmas decorations had a rather humble beginning, actually.  That first year, Dad put a wreath and Mom put up a tree, and things were pretty much low key that season.  Then I was born, and as I grew, so did Dad’s commitment to having the house visible from orbiting spacecraft.

I remember helping my parents decorate the house when I was first growing up.  Dad, with my “help” (I was in charge of drinking the hot chocolate), would put up about seven hundred colored lights around our front door and windows.  As this was the seventies, and things like energy conservation, electrical safety, and good taste hadn’t been invented yet, these were not the cute soft little twinkle lights so popular today.  No sir, these were the gaudy, power guzzling two inch long behemoths of yesteryear.  They came about six to a strand, and when we plugged them in, the rest of the lights in the neighborhood would dim.  After about an hour these things put out enough heat to melt the polar icecaps.  We also wrapped the front door in tin foil, and put a large wreath up on the side of the house, so that everyone knew that we knew it was Christmas.

The inside of the house was Mom’s domain (she did, however, allow Dad to come in from time to time), and for about three weeks prior to Christmas, Mom would unpack decorations and put up little candles and bows and Santas and a whole bunch of other things.  Mom did allow Dad and I (again, I mostly drank hot chocolate) to decorate the trees.  Yes, I said trees.  As long as I can remember, my family has always put up two trees.  The one in the living room was fake, but we always said either “artificial” or “living impaired” so as not to hurt its feelings.  It was decorated in a very formal manner, just green and gold.  No red anywhere in sight, and Mom strictly enforced that.  I tried to hang a red ball on it once, and got spanked with a giant candy cane.  Now that’s the true meaning of Christmas.  Green and gold, no questions, no exceptions.  Santa was watching.

Our second tree was a real tree, downstairs in the basement.  In keeping with Dad’s theme of putting lights on everything within reach, this tree was covered with colored lights.  These were the indoor version of the ones outside, slightly smaller and less kilowatt consuming (still, my family’s holiday energy use contributed heavily to this country’s  race to perfect nuclear power) and produced slightly less (about two degrees) heat, but were every bit as gaudy.  In addition, we put lots of brightly colored glass balls on the tree, in order to cover the tackiness of the lights with an even greater tackiness.  Still, this was the seventies, and tacky was in, so we were happy.

Downstairs across from the tree is where we set up the manger scene.  A manger scene, for you pagans,  is a depiction of the birth scene of the baby Jesus.  A typical manger scene has the Holy Family, an angel, two shepherds, three kings, and animals commonly found in the Middle Eastern region, such as sheep (to keep an eye on the shepherds) and donkeys and oxen.  Our manger scene, which took up most of the basement, had the extended Holy Family, including aunts and uncles, four shepherds, an entire flock of sheep, six oxen, two donkeys, about a battalion of angels (not cute little cherubs, either), the three kings with their queens and concubines and bodyguards and camels, and a whitetail deer.  Yes, one whitetail deer.  Not being very smart, I never realized that whitetail deer do not normally inhabit the middle eastern regions.  Apparently, Dad’s little sister gave it to him, and made him in a moment of weakness promise to make it a part of our manger scene, and zoological propriety be damned.  Mom has often since been grateful that Dad did not have a younger brother who gave my father a model car, or else the  manger scene might contain Joseph and Mary in a ’57 Chevy (though I always thought that would look really cool).

As I got older, our decorative scheme became rote.  We went to extremes every year, but it was the same extreme, so we were comfortable, and a little bored.  Then one day, my brother was born, (I had asked Santa for a puppy) and we had to move.  My entire twelve years of life were turned upside down, and just when I thought things couldn’t get any worse, here comes Christmas.

Our new home presented some interesting decorating challenges.  It had an entire extra section of roof to decorate, for one thing.  For another, it was a lot longer, and if we were to continue to use the seventies lights (which in the eighties were getting expensive) my parents would have to get another mortgage. Finally, there was an entire new power grid to tamper with.

Our first attempt in the new home was a valiant effort, but extremely inefficient.  In order to get all the lights to go on, we had to throw two switches, plug in six plugs, and fire up an auxiliary generator.  Everything looked great though, and with a little bit of burn salve, we healed quickly.

As the years progressed, we learned from our mistakes, and every year we made improvements in the system.  Our triumph came the Christmas of my senior year in college.  On that blessed occasion, after studying electrical diagrams for three weeks prior, and spending $312 on extension cords and those little things you screw into light sockets so you can plug said extension cords into them, we were able to get all of our holiday decorations to light up from only two switches.  We celebrated.  Then we sang.  Then we blew two fuses in our house, and one across the street.  We have several times since tried to get everything to run off  just one switch, but sadly the goal still eludes us.  One year, after a particularly bad start, we actually regressed to three.  Dad took that pretty hard, but he’s ok now.

Coming from a large Italian family (meaning that it is a family of very large Italians) no discussion of the holiday season would be complete without discussing food.  Christmas eve dinner is perhaps the most joyous meal in my family, and every year we prepare for it with the same zeal that the Allies prepared for Normandy (it’s about that noisy, too.).  Each year we alternate between our brightly decorated house and my Dad’s cousin’s house.  Their house is about the same as ours, except, according to them, more “tastefully” decorated (which is the polite way of saying they put up a hell of a lot less lights).  We invite all the relatives in the local area (who aren’t doing time) in for the feast.

AND WHAT A FEAST IT IS!  The traditional Italian Christmas Eve dinner includes seven different kinds of fish.  The traditional Italian Christmas Eve dinner in my family also includes six different kinds of pasta, five different types of pastries, four bottles of wine (per person), three types of scotch, two turtle doves, and a Frank Sinatra Christmas album.

As we gather around the table stuffing ourselves, the older members of the family engage in the timeless family tradition of getting hammered, coupled with the other timeless family tradition of getting really LOUD.  As they do this, Mom always picks this time to break out the video camera to record the event.  As Mom has often had a few drinks herself, her ability to hold the camera steady is somewhat disrupted.  The end result every year is a ten minute long movie of a bunch of older drunk people yelling loudly at the sober grand children during what appears to be an earthquake. 

And I wouldn’t trade any of it.

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