I’m not the go-crazy-decorating-like-a-mad-woman-and-buying-ridiculous-amounts-of-gifts holiday woman.  I never have been.  I enjoy a good holiday, but I’ve just never been over the top about them.  For me, the holidays aren’t about that.  They’re about family. 

My childhood holidays centered around family.  My mom’s family, mostly.  My father didn’t have much of a family and the few relatives he did have celebrated with their own, so we always spent the holidays with my mother’s big Italian family.  I was fine with that.  I really didn’t know anything different and don’t think I would have picked anything different if I could. 

My aunts and uncles were a boisterous bunch.  Holidays were always loud, filled with laughter, food and arguing.  Arguing about anything and everything, but mostly the Cubs vs the Sox.  That’s what Italians do.  They argue for sport and about sport, too. (They argue about everything actually!)  My father hated it. He didn’t hate being there, he hated the noise.  I never understood it growing up, but having three wonderful, yet loud kids and an amazing and loud husband, I get it now.  The noise makes me tired. 

Dad would always retreat for a nap at my grandparents or my uncles, or wherever the holiday was being held. Sometimes I’d sneak up there with him.  I never napped, I just liked being near him. I remember watching him sleep.  It was then I’d get to see his face unhidden by his coke bottle sized glasses.  He was a handsome man, and I thought he walked on water. 

My mother would be wherever the action was.  She was right splat in the middle of everything.  Cooking with her sister, her brother in-law and, God willing she’d let her, her mother.  I personally stayed out of the kitchen when my grandmother was cooking.  She had a way of giving the evil eye to anyone in her way, and I’d be damned if I was going to catch that.  If you’re Italian, you have to know the evil eye is real and it’s a scary thing.  I firmly believe in this old Italian wive’s tale!

Grandma wasn’t a mean woman.  She just knew what she needed to do and made sure no one, even God himself, got in her way.  Every so often she would meander out of the kitchen and warn us kids not to go in her china cabinet because there was candy in there and she didn’t want us to spoil our appetites.  We all got the hint, and I filled up on those white mints you can get in some restaurants every single time. They were my favorite. 

The mints never stopped me from having too much pasta and too many meatballs and as much Pepsi as I could handle.  Food coma be damned, I would fill up and moan in sheer delight just like the rest of them.  It was pure heaven.  

After dinner, everyone crowded around a big table, or a bunch of big tables at my Uncle Norm and Aunt Eleanor’s house, and we all hung out and exchanged stories, theories and arguments. I’d sit and listen, soaking in the atmosphere, listening to the typical Italian Chicago speak full of ‘youse guys’ and Italian words I never quite understood.  I am quite sure they were swear words. Quite sure. 

Eventually the kids would bore of the talk and wander off into other areas.  My aunt and uncle had this monstrous house with what felt like hundreds of rooms.  I’d sneak into their living room and tap on the piano, lacking any ability or talent whatsoever, but thinking I was the bomb.  Then I’d wander up into my cousins rooms and play with their Barbies.  They had the most amazing Barbie collection. Not just the Barbies and the clothes, but an incredible assortment of things unimaginable.  Silverware, purses, shoes, things I so desperately wanted for my Barbies but could never convince my parents to buy.  Silverware.  Who knew they made silverware for Barbies? I often wonder what happened to all of that stuff. It’s probably worth a bundle now. 

That’s the interesting thing about Christmas.  For me, when I look back, I remember one gift.  I remember a pale pink tutu I got when I was in kindergarten.  I was six.  After that, I cannot tell you one single present I got for Christmas.  Not one.  I can though, and will in future posts, tell you some pretty funny stories about my family, like when my dad shot Santa.  But as for the gifts, outside of the tutu, I’ve got nothing stored in my brain. 

For me, it was never about the gifts.  It was about the people.  My family.  It was about spending time with a big group of loud, often obnoxious Italians and their families.  It was about time with them, honoring traditions, sticking to my grandparents plastic cover on the couch, and eating funky shaped cookies with jellies in the middle.  It was about love and connecting and sharing and eating and laughing and taking naps.  And just being together.  

Now I have only one aunt left, and I’m grateful she’s still with us.  All of my mothers brothers and her sister have passed, and it’s been years since they’ve all gone.  We haven’t had a big family get together in over 15 years.  The house my aunt and uncle shared belongs to someone else.  My grandparents are gone, the memories of time with them stored safely in my heart.  

Cousins are spread out all over the country and we rarely talk or see each other.  The traditions we shared, that I’ve held so close to my heart, have gone with the family members who’ve passed.  We never found a way to continue them and it makes me sad.  I’m sure my aunts and uncles and my grandparents would be sad too. 

My children only got to meet my Aunt Eleanor, and only a few times.  I would have loved for my kids to meet my other aunts and uncles, and my grandparents.  They would have so enjoyed the loudness and the food and the cookies and the hidden candy.  They would have laughed at the Chicago and Italian accents, the cheek pinching and the swearing.  And I would have been proud to show my kids how I became the person I am today because so much of those people, that history, and those special holidays made me who I am.  And I am continually grateful to them for shaping me into a brassy, loud-mouthed Italian woman.  

If Santa were to ask me what I wanted for Christmas, I’d ask for one more holiday at my Uncle Norm and Aunt Eleanor’s house, and one more nap with my dad.