It’s not the abundance of gifts and Christmas spirit I miss about my old Italian days. The ‘abundance’ was, well, limited, as my parents – though having secure and comfortable jobs as educators – were quite thrifty, and we kids didn’t find more than one or (rarely) two presents under the tree (or on top of the dining room table, which was usually the case). Nor the spirit of the season, being very elusive and low-key in my family.
It is the innocence.
That is, being so blissfully unaware of things to come that would hurt/anger/spoil/crush our anticipation of a magnificent future. Which all youngsters expect just because.
Because sometimes we live in/for the future. When everything is going to be so much better, perfect, all you always wanted, prince charming, a life of travel and adventure, the greatest love.
Walking, on Christmas Eve, in the midst of the hectic, messy, wonderfully loud holiday cheer of the market street in Portici, my hometown. Fish everywhere. Big buckets where wiggling eels slithered and dived in the collected sea water, perhaps aware of their fate. A Neapolitan tradition I never had, because of the ‘gag’ factor. Meaning, I’m going to gag if you feed us eels, mamma, I swear. She never did. Nobody in the family had any interest in eel cooked in tomato sauce, a delicacy of Neapolitan cuisine, a must on Christmas Eve. Yet, it fascinated me to watch the slimy creatures do their wild dance in those buckets, sometimes spilling over and hitting the cobble stoned sidewalk, with everyone screaming with glee (most shoppers) and horror (me). It was part of the tradition, of the season, of the ‘beat’ of Christmas, when I was a so young and sizzling with great expectations.
Laurel and Hardy’s shaky black and white movies on TV still innocently entertained me and my siblings, on the wonderful ‘day before’, while my mother feverishly shaped hundreds of painstakingly stuffed tortellini to be served in super rich, delicious meat stock on Christmas Day, according to her beloved traditions of Modena, her Northern Italian hometown. Beloved by all of us: nothing like my mother’s tortellini, buttery-tender, savory with a pork, chicken and parmigiano filling, never ever enough of them.
The gifts, not many, not grand, but the most exciting we ever had. The Christmas tree was sometimes real (usually a gift from a teacher in the school where my father was principal), hastily delivered on Christmas Eve, much to my mother’s chagrin (Damn it, now I have to trim the bloody thing overnight…), and to our most exuberant joy, almost too much to bear.
Innocence indeed. Because the future was so overwhelmingly bright. You can do anything kind of bright.
We believed. I believed.
It is, people.
Make it be worth it. For your children, for those who deserve you to care. Somebody always is.
Push away the memories of what could have been if only. You made your choices.
One pays for her choices. But others – the important ones – must not. Suck it up, you who are all grown up and mature now, move on.
Christmas is beautiful.
Life beats you, but you recover.
Your children are the meaning of it.