The Christmas Past At Christmas I am always thinking of my mom, dad, and sister. I think of the memories we have made over the years. Not just with the four of us, but with our extended family of first and second cousins, aunts and uncles, great aunts and uncles, and on and on! I come from such a large family you can only imagine the food, the stories, and chaos that comes along with it.
Christmas Eve was always spent at my Aunt Fran and Uncle Frank’s home to celebrate with my father’s side of the family. (They are my father’s uncle and his wife, who over the course of time are like grandparents to my sister and I.) My aunt and uncle have a small home just a couple of blocks from where I grew up in Garfield, New Jersey. It was not uncommon that in this tiny home we would fit anywhere from 25 to 30 people or more! There would be food on top of food, the more desserts the better and it was all set up in a buffet style. Although everyone would bring something to eat I always looked forward to whatever my Aunt Fran would make: Baked Ziti, Eggplant, Swiss chard, Sausage with Peppers and Onions – all of her food was always terrific. My cousin Frannie always made a variety of cookies that I loved to try, amongst them always were these Fruit Preserve and Oatmeal Bars. They were simply scrumptious. Someone in the family always dressed up as Santa to exchange gifts. It was a fun tradition that my sister and I enjoyed even as we were all grown. I can remember Santa passing out cookies, pecan pies, and cans of tomato paste (an inside joke with the family).
As the evening grew late we would then drive to church for midnight mass. Being that my parent’s home, my Aunt Fran and Uncle Frank’s home, and their church were all within a three block radius it makes me laugh that we would all pile into cars in freezing temperatures and drive through the narrow streets of Garfield to go to church. At mass we usually saw other relatives, and friends always greeting each other with hugs and kisses. After church we would rush home to bed so that the Christmas morning would come fast but not before putting cookies out for Santa and a carrot or two for his reindeer.
In the morning I always had to see if Santa liked the cookies I left. They were always just crumbs there on the plate, and a big bite out of the carrot! We opened presents and ate treats…I always sneaked in a few cookies that were on the table that family and friends would have sent my parents. It was not uncommon for my Aunt Marie (my father’s sister) to come by in the morning. Then my mother would make a big breakfast for all of us. Usually pancakes, with bacon or pork roll. (Pork Roll is defiantly a New Jersey / East Coast thing that is seldom found outside that area, it is just a spiced pork meat that is sliced and you griddle it.) Then we would get ready to head over to my Aunt Kim and Uncle Frank’s home it was time to celebrate with my mom’s side of the family. (My Uncle Frank is my mother’s brother and my Aunt Kim is his wife who my sister and I always adored!)
At my Aunt Kim and Uncle Frank’s home we would have a day of relaxing and luxury eating. Not a crowd like the night before, but just as much fun. My Aunt would make a huge variety of hors d’oeuvres, and my Uncle Frank would pop Champagne for all. That was usually followed by a meal that was just as special. My Aunt Kim made beautiful meals for us: Roasts of Beef or Pork, homemade Caesar Salad, traditional Lasagna, and reoccurring (by popular demand) a Lobster and Crab appetizer wrapped in a Puff Pastry with a Cognac Cream Sauce. Every year it was different, and every year my sister and I could not wait to see what came next. It was “luxury” eating at its finest and it made me feel so special that she would treat us like this. It was followed by fruit and nuts, and then dessert. But who could eat dessert after the last 48 hours…..okay, I always could! Cookies, pies, cakes, and pastries all beautiful and all yummy! They were all fantastic, but I usually just wanted a Fig Cookie. I know weird, but I think it shows my Sicilian heritage.
After our day was through it was not uncommon for my sister or I to fall asleep on the car ride home. I would lie in bed at night and not only think about the toys and gift I had received, but about the time with family and the food I had eaten. These two days made me feel so loved, and it lasted me through the year. My husband and I have a much more subdued holiday in comparison to those I grew so familiar of. My sister now with a little one of her own and experiencing the yet same traditions makes me miss my family. But I just pick a memory to tell my husband about and he smiles and chuckles as I tell it. Makes the holidays feel like there is no change even at 3,000 miles away.