My Italian American Family

The Transition of Traditions

This holiday season, unlike every year I can remember, we didn’t gather in New Jersey. Mom and Dad have been gone for two decades but Nana and Poppy (my sister and brother-in-law) have always been the home where we gather to celebrate our holiday traditions. Not 2021!

Covid caused a rethinking. Instead, 15 of us (that is now our immediate family with nephews, nieces, great nieces and nephews add in spouses and partners) traveled to a beautiful rental home in South Carolina big enough for everyone.

New place and new practices emerged from Christmas Eve to New Years Day. In my past I remember men playing card games like poker and pinochle. The women were in the kitchen cooking and we kids were somewhere playing. This year I watched my family play board games with far more equality! Men and women were playing, it was inter-generational and the men during the week did tons of cooking! Amid the laughing, teasing, negotiating and fierce competition, the value of bonding was the same whether cards or board games.

The traditional Italian-Catholic Christmas Eve dinner of seven fishes was reduced by my South Carolina, restaurant owner chef nephew-in-law, to two fishes.  The exquisite meal was specially chosen and prepared by him for our reserved table in his restaurant.  We ate in a restaurant not a home! 

Past Christmas eves and days, you could always hear Christmas carols on a radio, CD or whatever enjoyed by my family. We would always sing along. This year one of my great nephews, a professionally trained singer/actor, treated us, in the restaurant, to a live show singing Christmas carols or a Broadway show tune of our choice.

Sharing a variation of traditional food brought comfort and memories. Singing favorite carols and songs brought a unique joy and a sense that in spite of Covid all was well no matter where we sang, as long as we sing and share together.

My niece who lives in South Carolina purchased a pre-light tree from Target for this rental home. We labeled it the traveling Christmas tree which we agreed we will use every year forward. We purchased one ornament in memory of the 2021 Christmas together. Next year, same tree, 2021 ornaments and who knows where we will be! My mother, sister and especially me treasured the passed down ornaments. I have a collection of creches from all over the world and my White House ornament collection has its own special tree, but we all fell in love and adopted the “Traveling Target Christmas Tree” which will be a part of every family Christmas celebration in the future.

Every generation of the family realized or experienced vulnerability because of Covid. Some became unemployed and had to find new career opportunities, some had to relocate, some had to manage a small business during challenging times and some worried about their physical health. For me, it was the realization that “time is not an unlimited resource.” We shared the value of being flexible. Change was fine this Christmas if it meant being together amid hugs, kisses, laughter and unconditional love.

My mother was a great baker. She spoiled all of us at the holidays by baking the best biscotti, pine nut and lemon iced cookies. My niece, who married my nephew, managed to perfectly replicate the lemon cookies and the wonderful smell. Fond memories flooded back. Appearing from who knows where, a container of Italian biscotti. At one point, I looked around the table and all generations were represented dunking biscotti into coffee, tea, milk or whatever. We all looked at each other and just laughed.

The values, reflected by all generations endured through the years but the practices, traditions and places surely changed. ~ Janice