In the heat of battle my father wove a tapestry of obscenities that as far as we know is still hanging in space over Lake Michigan. – a christmas story
It’s the most wonderful time of the year, or the most horrifying time, depending on who you are (or who your family is). For me, it’s beyond wonderful. It is THE time to be with family. I’ve spent the last couple of days baking, watching Christmas movies, sending out holiday cards, and snuggled up in bed eating ginger chocolate cookies and reading The Lovely Bones (not exactly something that’ll get you in the Christmas spirit, but the book is brutally radiant).
A few days ago, a dear friend of mine asked me if my family has any great Christmas traditions. I have two that are of the utmost importance. Christmas is a huge, huge deal to my parents. We were never spoiled as children when it came to presents, but the entire experience of Christmas is something that I hold very dear to my heart.
The first one occurs usually December 23rd. After dinner, we settle into the living room with coffee and cookies and watch It’s A Wonderful Life. I refuse to watch it at any other point in the calendar year, not even when it’s on TV. It’s become so much of a tradition to have all of us watch that if one of us can’t make it we push the entire thing back another day or two. Last year my brother couldn’t watch it so I spent December 23rd buried on the couch fighting off a horrible sinus infection, watching How The Grinch Stole Christmas and saying the lines along with Dad. “And they’ll feast, and they’ll feast, and they’ll feast feast feast feast!” This year, obviously we have the Stanford game on that day so I figured we’d have to do it another time. Nope. I asked Dad what other day we could do it and he looked at me like I’d lost my mind. “The Stanford game is at 5:30! We’ll be able to do it, trust me.” It’s become almost the grand tradition of the Auriemma house to watch that movie, and the lines have become almost biblical in their status. The other night at dinner, for no real reason, I blurted out Mr. Potter’s legendary line “SENTIMENTAL HOGWASH” in response to a bizarre claim my mother made, and my sister and Dad burst out laughing. We’ve referred to ourselves as ‘garlic eaters’ more times than is really necessary because of that movie.
When I was a child, every single year on Christmas Eve I’d go with my brother to our local Y to eat a bagel breakfast and shoot hoops. Then, I’d put on a party dress (usually constructed of taffeta and velvet, ahhh 90s fashion) and go to Mass. Aside from the bagels and Y trip, this has not changed one iota. We always go to the Christmas Eve 4:00 Vigil Mass at my church down the road, the same church I’ve been going to since I was born and the church my sister was married in last year. Someone always has to go early and save seats (usually it’s me and Jenna), and it gets incredibly hot and close.. And I must admit to all of you that the Auriemma family is not the most well-behaved at Mass. Telling a family of talkers they can’t talk for one hour is like Chinese water torture. Usually about ten minutes in we all get ‘the church giggles’. There are some horror stories involving Vigil Mass that I cannot talk about out of the goodness of my heart (plus my parents would murder me).
After Mass we head home and get the house ready. Every single year, we have the same three families come over with their kids for a Christmas Eve party. There is no invite necessary, because it is simply expected that if you are from one of those three core families you are at my house on Christmas Eve for dinner. It is a HUGE deal. Once my sister told her husband “You can have every other holiday on the Roman calender, but Christmas is mine and it’s at my house.” She’s kept true to her word, doing Easter and Thanksgiving with the Stiglianos, but on Christmas Eve, Todd’s at our house!
My mom’s friend Laura has twins that are ten years younger than the rest of us, so up until around four or five years ago one of the dads dressed up as Santa and gave them presents. One year Dad did it, and we all voted to never have him play Santa again. When the twins hit that age where they don’t need a Santa at the party, a friend brought her little girl and boy over and Mike went outside and rang some sleighbells, alerting the children that someone was outside with presents. Lately the dinner party has become hilarious since almost all of us are in our midtwenties yet Mom insists on having a ‘kid’s table’. It’s very strange having wine and beer at a kid’s table, I can tell you.
After the party, there’s always a huge letdown. We clean, hang out, and go to bed. When I was a child I’d hear thudding downstairs and know in my heart it was Santa Claus. I’d insist on leaving a ton of cookies and milk for him as well as carrots for the reindeer. When I got up, there would be no trace of my gifts, and always a little note thanking me for the delicious food. Up until two years ago my mom insisted on writing “love, Santa” on a few of our presents, which always made me feel special when I was a kid but when you’re twenty-two and a college graduate it can be a little odd. The last time it happened we gave her hell for it. “I’d thank you for the DVDs Mom but clearly you didn’t get these for me!”
On Christmas morning we keep things lowkey: Open presents, eat breakfast, dunk Stella Doro cookies into coffee, and watch Christmas Story marathon on TNT (25 hours, oh hell yes). I try to go to the gym and work out, then we all head over to my parent’s friends house to watch NBA games.
This year will be a little bit different. Because of my pagan tendencies, I will be honoring Yule as well. Yule occurs the day and night of the winter solstice, the shortest day and longest night of the year. It is a time to reflect on the sun going dark and the rebirth of nature. I don’t do anything huge for pagan sabbats, but I will attempt to do it justice in some way.
Sometime later on this week I’ll be posting my favorite holiday albums. Be warned: Celine Dion makes a cameo appearance…
PS. I will be attending the game in Hartford tonight, feel free to say hello if you see me!