Merry Christmas to me. And guess what? I was okay with that, totally content, even excited. When Christmas was simpler. Not talking about a little house on a prairie either. There was no holiday rush when I was growing up in Italy. Okay, granted, I was a kid, thus not concerned with feast preparations nor multiple gift purchasing. Babbo Natale would come as expected, and reward our irreprehensible (not) behavior with a present. Emphasis on the a. That’s right, we children of educators in a middle class family would each receive onegift – a little blond doll with a few dresses in a box made to look like a wardrobe, a pink stroller, or a glossy fairytale book – sometimes with a little ‘side’ of bedroom slippers, wool undershirts, or such, if my very practical mother got a deal on these items which she would have to buy for us anyway…So sensible was she that, more times than not, the serviceable paper used by the store was the ‘gift wrapping’ she presented them in, and not even properly sealed. The Christmas tree was seldom real (only if a generous family friend – or appreciative school employee – picked it up for us), fairly small and sparingly decorated, confined to the formal dining room where nobody ever ventured unless they were formally invited – or to watch nightly television programs (long story), hastily assembled and trimmed on Christmas Eve. But our eyes sparkled when we saw it, and the few opaque sporadically functioning lights (shaped like minute lanterns) still performed their magic in the darkened room. It was thrilling to get out of school, knowing that special comedy shows were going to be on TV, and there was no homework to worry about for a couple of weeks. Indeed, there was NO homework! Vacation used to be actually absence-of-workback in the old days of the later part of the 20th century; holidays were long, promising blank valleys to fill with whatever a child did if he didn’t need to stress over review packets that weighed like lead on his little guilt-filled heart. The pretty statuettes of ourpresepio were meticulously arranged according to ancient Neapolitan tradition on the cleared-out dresser in the bedroom my sister and I shared, but in my family’s less complicated and no-nonsense manner: a grotto fashioned out of brown and forest-green paper, scrunched up and shaped to resemble the real thing, then the holy family was carefully placed in its dark embrace (minus baby Jesus, of course, who would magically appear only on the 25th), a few clay shepherds and wobbly sheep scattered around, a couple of plastic ducks glided serenely on a mirror that was a pond, and a light dusting of…flour gave the scene its mystic seasonal appeal. Sure, there were families that dedicated half of a room (or a whole one!) to the nativity, but mine remained very sensible also on this aspect. The shops were cheerfully but modestly decorated, more crowded than usual of course, but there was no sense of urgency, distress or holiday desperation on anyone’s face, because you could always find a little something that would brighten someone’s heart. No Black Friday store trashing, Cyber Monday celebration of greed, then, simply a significant holiday to accept and live for what it was. Yearning for those innocent days, I find myself, as I try to wrap my brain around all my forthcoming Christmas ‘duties’ – expected and reasonably appreciated by all, but also so draining – in my commercially overwhelming, star-studded reality with a desolately underwhelming budget. A book, yes, a glossy, chunky book was the best ever gift. And I actually liked getting cozy, rainbow-colored bedroom slippers, honest.