December 20, 2016
Buon Natale! Merry Christmas! It is almost upon us. This Christmas for me will be a time to say farewell to my close family in Minnesota as I leave for Italy via Seattle that evening. I am sure it will be fun. It will be full of Italian food, loud laughter, caffe’ corretto. Coffee with liquor in it, and children shredding wrapping paper as they tear into their gifts.
For me, right now, however, I am thinking of Christmases past, when photos were not in color, when we gathered with extended family for 2 days.
On Christmas Eve, all the families descended upon Nonna and Grandpa John (Giovanni) Ricci’s tiny little house on Fred St. in the Italian neighborhood of lower East. St. Paul. We always entered through the side door directly into the kitchen. Usually, Uncle Frank was already there drinking Anisette and Nonna was cooking. That cucina (kitchen) was so very tiny. It is amazing what came out of it.
We would sneak by the kitchen table, get kisses from Nonna and a grunt of Merry Christmas from Uncle Frank as we carried our huge bag of gifts into the largest room in the house, the dining room, where the Christmas tree was all set up and waiting. The pile of gifts was for our grandparents, our god-parents and for the god-children of our god-parents. Nonna and Grandpa gave us envelopes with a $! Bill in it. We all gave Grandpa Ricci bottles of liquor and every one of the children waited for Santa Claus to arrive after dinner.
Dinner, where would we have dinner? There were way too many of us to sit in the dining room. Instead, Auntie Carmel, Nonna and others would clean the unfinished basement and set up tables for maybe 70 people including children.
There were at least 25 kids present and all their parents and the grandparents. All the tables were covered with linens and set with good dishes, glassware and silverware. And it was Christmas eve.
Our family did not have the tradition of the seven fishes. I don’t think we could have afforded all that. We did have the worst fish possible and we had to eat it. It was Baccala, dried cod. We did not get it from an Italian store. We were in the land of the Scandinavians and bought their lutefisk and seasoned it our way. All the kids hated it. But it was tradition.
Besides the fish dishes of course we had pasta, pane, insalata, e vedure (macaroni dish, bread, salad and vegetables). Of course the children loved most of that.
Guess who had to help clean the tables and do all the dishes? While the girls (minus one or two—and you know who you are) scrubbed and dried all the dishes, the boys were raiding the dolce, sweet treats, and running around. The adults were tasting the liquor available and talking. And everyone waited for Santa to arrive.
Soon we would sing Santa Claus is Coming to Town and, suddenly Santa would arrive. There was no fireplace at Nonna’s house. Santa had to enter through the front door. Oh, he was so merry and we were all so excited. I remember that Santa would toss candy and small gifts to us and we would tear into them. Finally, Santa would have to leave for other homes and we moved on to opening our other gifts.
This photo looks so civilized for Christmas eve. Here is another.
Ultimately, Grandpa would open all his gifts and so many people would be there.
Next, we needed to return to our own homes where we would go to our rooms, feigning sleep, hoping to hear Santa arrive at our own homes and drop our gifts under the tree.
Buon Natale a tutti! Merry Christmas everyone! Tune in next week for what Christmas Day in Black and White was like at the Ricci home.
Ciao for now!
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Ciao for Now!
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