The way it used to be

Over-idealizing the past definitely guarantees you a berth on what my witty brother-in-law calls the “bullet train to Geezerville.” Still, there’s no denying the natural human tendency for nostalgia, which, since it’s pretty selective, is always fun, especially at Christmas. The Hallmark Channel, as we all know, makes a mint on it.

Except for the reliable constants of church, tree, cards, and presents, the middle-of-the-middle class Christmases of my childhood were dramatically different from anything that kids today experience. All trees were real. Nattily dressed shoppers crammed the stores, which were open two nights a week. The big treat was a night-time trip to town to visit Santa and see the animated department store windows—different every year, and always enchanting. Mail arrived twice a day, and there were so many cards that we lined the entire bannister with them, straight up to the second floor. Kids asked Santa for one special gift, just like Ralphie. While the stockings may have been stuffed with candy or tiny books or trinkets, and other family members may have provided more useful but modest gifts, that one present from Santa was what most children were thrilled and grateful to find under the tree. Christmas carols* and the secular holidays songs were on all of the radio stations, almost all of the time.

But above all,  in our big, noisy Italian-American family, Christmas was about being together. The celebration started with Midnight Mass, and, once Christmas dinner was over, the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day was spent visiting. We’d crowd around the table on one night at our house, on others at the homes of aunts, uncles, and cousins, where we were amply supplied with whatever leftovers were on hand and tray after tray of cookies. The grown-ups had a beer or two, or coffee and anisette, while we kids played with each other’s toys. We laughed and sang, disagreements were friendly and without repercussion, and no one felt left out. That’s one of our Christmas get-togethers in the photo above, at our house. That’s my mother, in the center, with the dark dress and pearls, and my father, on the right, in front of the china cabinet.

Our once-huge extended family has dwindled, and family members, with a few exceptions, aren’t close. Over the years, as children left the steel mill behind and began to make their way in the world, they lost interest in family celebrations, even disdaining them as quaint and unsophisticiated. The Christmas I knew as a child became little more than a hazy, idealized memory.  Still, I am so glad to have it.

I confess to a trace of envy when I hear of a family large enough, energetic enough, and committed enough, to celebrate in the noisy, crowded, overstuffed old-fashioned way. My own family, whom I love dearly and appreciate every single minute of every single day, is small; our Christmases are quiet but precious nonetheless.

Whatever you make of Christmas, may your day be filled with joy and gratitude for the blessings around your table, and may you have good health and prosperity in the year to come!

*Hear this, Hallmark Channel, although you know I love you, please stop the dancing to “Silent Night.” It just isn’t done.



9 thoughts on “The way it used to be

  1. Joy

    Your family was my family….and sadly, no more. So many aunts and uncles! the memories are wonderful. My boys have good stories..the family was still big enough and together…my grandkids, I’m not sure. We’re working on it.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Mary Hart

    Angela – this entry reminds me of Christamases at my Nana’s with my aunts and uncles (12 of them) and cousins(only 5) plus recent or not so recent Irish immigrants. I loved helping my Nana with the food and could never wait for desert – always plum pudding and mince pie both accompanied by hard sauce. Although I don’t do either from scratch these days ( i had my mother’s double boiler from 1933 and its handle broke off a few years ago) as I no longer have the type of double boiler necessary for the plum pudding, but we do have mince pie and hard sauce. Not so long ago our Christmases were full of kids – and boyfriends as the girls got older and subsequent spouses, and then grandkids. Talk about loud and raucous – and of course there were mountains of cookies and craft project littering every corner of the house. Now, in our dotage and living in a small bungalow, we can’t fit the 45 members of our family in for much of anything – unless it’s summer and we can use our porch and Katie’s ( next door – in the house where she grew up) porch. But many kids, grandkids, and greats will be visiting in the next week or so and that’s just great. There always plenty of food – cookies take the lead, but left overs from our Christmas meal ( this year, thanks to our son in law, it’s duck!) and “picking” is our way of life ( I ‘ve been told, it’s grazing these days, but ” picking” is fine with me!) But no matter how we celebrate it, it’s always a celebration of Christ’s birth and the joy that event brings to our days. Merry Christmas to you and your family and may 2018 be a year full of happiness and good health!

    Liked by 1 person

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