Friday, December 25, 2009

new traditions (m)

My favorite day of the entire year.  It's all about the anticipation which reaches a crescendo around midnight.

Growing up in the Italian tradition, this was the night where it all came together.  Christmas Day was the denouement. 

The Italian women cooked up a storm, serving seven different kinds of fishes.  To a kid, this was food hell seeing dried cod (baccala) hanging in the stores like something from a horror movie and then finding out they put it in the gravy (tomato sauce).  The lobster looked equally creepy, but I usually settled on some baked haddock.  So, it was less about eating and more about having all the relatives under one roof.

At midnight, we would go to Mass.  This was a special treat, to be able to stay up late and hear beautiful music (instead of that shrill witch from the choir who played the kid's mass at 7:45 a.m. every Sunday).  O Come All Ye Faithful was the closing song, accompanied by trumpets.  Magic.

My grandparents lived across the street from the Church, so we would visit them after Midnight Mass.  The cousins (about 17 kids) each got to open one gift and then we settled down to watch A Christmas Carol in black and white (of course), waiting for Santa's footsteps on the roof.  While the other kids were dozing off, I was sneaking the Torrone candy from the display dish.  Those are the little boxes of nougats that come in three flavors.  I pretended the top layer was Communion (so, what, it had to be good for me?).  Each year, I would rank the, then vanilla, then lemon.  I made myself sick.

The grandparents are long gone, as are almost all the aunts and uncles.  The cousins have dispersed for the most part, having moved away or created their own traditions with their own nuclear families.

All is not lost as we have two new traditions:  Cousin Patty's Christmas Eve and my brother Phil's.

Picture a cruise ship's midnight buffet.  That was Patty's house.  An obscene amount of food, covering every countertop and tabletop of the first floor in her house.  All homemade.  The quantity and variety were astonishing...far surpassing the aunt's birthday party in October.  She had been on hyperdrive, cooking like she was in some contest on reality tv.  People pour into the house, declaring this event to be "what we've been waiting for all year."  Patty looks energized and pleased.

Patty notices my weight loss..."You've lost a lot of weight.  You go "in" now, she gestures a narrowing of the waist.  I am eating a wedge of her eggplant parmesan as she is telling me this.  Bad timing.  Who cares?  I'd take the electric chair for her eggplant.

I confessed I was on WW (though not that day).  Right after that, she says she has a New Year's resolution.  Have I inspired her to go to WW, I wonder?  "I'm going to learn to make my own calzone."  That was the resolution.

We reluctantly leave Patty's to go to Mass, and then Phil's house.  An elegant affair.  He and his wife, Betsy, made Turkey Ballotine from the Gourmet cookbook.  The house is exquisite, candlelight everywhere.  Friends from NYC are in, bringing pastries from the bakery that was Jackie Kennedy's favorite.  I resist everything but the turkey.  I am guilt-ridden about the eggplant.

We get home around 11:30, put the boys' gifts out for Christmas morning.

I hop into bed at midnight.  Something's missing.

This is the first year I didn't buy Torrone candy for myself.

I missed it.

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