I wish I were a child.
So I could enjoy Christmas in its simplest, purest form.
The closing of the schools, the colored lights popping up all around, the wreaths, the panettoni in the shop windows, Christmas decorations for sale everywhere, the presepi vendors, with every possible statuette to add to you ever-growing crèche.
The sharp chill in the air, bundling up when going outside, heavy tights, maybe even a hat (Well, I grew up in Naples, so this was as cold as it was going to get, no need for snow boots, though chic leather boots were wonderfully appropriate). The smell of winter, roasting chestnuts, the lively fresh fish markets ready for your Christmas Eve dinner, the skinny Babbi Natale wondering the busy street, smiling for pictures with hesitant children.
The house afire with scarlet poinsettias, which nobody knew were poisonous, and nobody cared to inquire. The majestic Christmas tree arriving on Christmas Eve, just as we kids were losing all hope, laboriously trimmed by my mother when we went to bed, and sparkling in all its glory on Christmas morning.
The dozens of delectable treats gifted by my father’s many friends and colleagues, ALL of the Neapolitan Christmas sweets of our dreams, delivered personally at our front door, huge wreaths of honey-glistening Struffoli, trays of the glorious Pasta Reale, almond pastries enrobed in flawless fondant; spicy, chocolate-covered Mostaccioli ; a beautiful and elegant Cassata, circled by a supple and delicious green ribbon of almond paste, rich with ricotta cream scented with cinnamon and vanilla. Cases of Neapolitan salame, Auricchio provolone balls, sharp and tender, dried figs and baskets of whole nuts..
Watching television programs, silly and old-fashioned, featuring ancient Laurel and Hardy comedies, which we kids found unbearably funny, to the point of falling off a chair laughing (me, yes, I know hard to believe, considering that there isn’t much I deem ‘funny’ in these pragmatic days).
My mother frying up some tortelli, delectable little jam-stuffed dough bundles, dusted with powdered sugar, traditional from Modena, the only dessert she made, since all the others – classic, traditional and magnificent – were conveniently delivered by the greatest home bakers of our town, including the nuns of the nearby convent/orphanage/ school of Our Lady of Lourdes..
But the tortellini, well, those were being meticulously hand-shaped by my mother, hundreds of them, perky and uniform, lined up in plates that were then placed on every flat surface in the house to dry. No Christmas without tortellini in broth was acceptable, and we could never get enough.
Cozy in our flannel pajamas and hand-made wool bed socks (yes, by my mother, who knitted in the dark while watching television), we lucky children would go to bed with our perfect visions of sugarplums brightening our innocent dreams.
Now, well, it’s a whole different tune. The endless baking to be consumed casually and quickly, expected always, as if little elves populated the kitchen in the wee hours and produced a whimsical pastry wonderland.
All the gifts you wish to buy for those wonderful people in your life, and straining that tight budget, hoping that perhaps the spirit of Christmas will ease the pain of the after-the-holiday mail delivery.
The hours that are never enough, fending off exhaustion, cursing yourself for not having more spunk and energy after a full-day of work, living nights of a thousand worries and fears.
But here I am, playing magic elf in the kitchen, braving the stores, the cold I hate, pushing forward, determined to make this Christmas happen once again.
And yes, of course, I will place baby Jesus in the manger at midnight on
Christmas Eve, quietly, when everyone is asleep. He will just be there in the morning, miraculously appeared, sweet and gentle, with his chubby cheeks.
Yes, it’s all right, Christmas will always be wondrous.