One of the most wonderful things about my childhood was that I was lucky enough to experience Christmas with each side of my family. This was such an important thing that I didn’t even realize was happening at the time– so I thought I’d share some of those memories on this beautiful Christmas Eve. 🙂
Living so far away from either side could be a little difficult sometimes, growing up. My mom’s side of the family lived in California and my dad’s side lived in upstate New York. And the three of us (my parents and I) lived in Florida. So while I did love growing up the way I did, it often felt like we were way down south somewhere, while both sides of our family were on opposite sides of the country. It can be difficult enough being mixed, let alone when both sides are so far away from each other, like they’re in two different worlds.
BUT to make up for this, my parents came up with a brilliant idea. Each year, we would “rotate”. One year, we would spend Christmas with my mom’s side of the family, in California. The next year, we’d spend it in New York, with my dad’s side. The year after that, we’d stay home in Florida, with just the three of us. Then we’d start the cycle over again. California, New York, Florida. And so it continued this way throughout my childhood. It was a brilliant and fair way for all of us to get to spend holiday time with family. It was also a great way for me, personally, to experience Christmas with both sides; both cultures. I didn’t realize how important that would be until later. Each side had their own traditions. Their own holiday magic. And I was so proud to be able to participate in both. ❤
The Aubrey Christmas
Christmas with Mama’s side meant the whole family was usually over most days leading up to Christmas. But the big party was Christmas Day. Everything took place at Granny Bell’s house, of course. She and my Auntie Lisa would make a sizzling, juicy turkey, with baked dressing, delicious mac and cheese, and the golden treasure: sweet potato pie. And Granny’s sister, Annie, always brought her famous monkey bread and yeast rolls. But before company arrived, we’d spend the morning in the living room.
Granny was up before anyone else, at the crack of dawn. By 7am, the house smelled of waffles, bacon and cream of wheat. We’d grab a little something to nibble on and then make our way to the living room. It was always such a quiet, magical morning. Granny, Uncle Gregory, Auntie Lisa, my parents and I would sit around the room, ready to open gifts under the tree. Before we started, I always admired the fireplace (which was made of white plastic and not anywhere near an actual fireplace at all. But it was beautifully decorated and made me feel so at home. So I always loved looking at it. 🙂 ) Then we’d all open presents at the same time. I always watched in wonder as everyone opened their gifts with such tenderness. I usually just tore mine open, like an impatient little thing.
Then by the time early afternoon rolled around, family and friends were coming in every thirty minutes. Food was left on the stove for everyone to grab as they wish, buffet-style. The kids would play basketball or hop-scotch in the backyard. The dog was usually yapping and throwing a fit about being locked outside, away from the food. (Yes, there was always dog. Still is.) The women would sit in the living room and catch up and laugh and laugh and eat. The men would gather in the den and watch “the game”. There was always some sort of game on that required their immediate attention. Many loud shouts and cheers came from that den. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve found myself spending more time in the kitchen with cousins, catching up on relationships and exciting career moves and quick, yummy recipes for busy nights after work. And a glass of wine, here and there.
No matter where we spent the most time, everyone would visit everyone at some point during the day. All the food would be gone– especially the cheesy scallop potatoes and desserts that other aunts and uncles brought. And everyone would leave Granny’s house that night with a full belly and a warm smile.
And after everyone was gone, I would put on my Christmas nightgown, say goodnight to the fam and the doggie, and curl up under Granny Bell’s light, gentle covers to sleep.
The Bertini Christmas
Christmas with my dad’s side was entirely different. Everything started on Christmas Eve. As is traditional for Italian culture, Christmas dinner was served the night before.
Our Italian Christmas Eve dinner usually meant lots of light dishes and lots of seafood. My grandma never did much of the whole seafood thing from what I remember, except for scampi, but Aunt Marianne certainly did. Salmon, pasta and shrimp in a buttery white wine sauce. We also had Christmas cookies for dessert. The Bertini family has a very specific family recipe that’s been passed down to loved ones (and even made some years at the Aubrey house!) They’re delectable, simple sugar cookies with lemon and vanilla extract, colored icing on top and decorated with all kinds of goodies; sprinkles, chocolate chips, M&Ms, red hot candies, etc. But those were after your plate was cleaned, of course. Dinner was served in the dining room in Aunt Marianne’s house, at the long table by the window that overlooked the front yard snow. Family was over, of course. It was always a lively gathering. ❤ Then it was time for bed…until Mama would wake up my cousin, Will, and me for Midnight Mass.
He and I are the same age, so as kids, we were both excited to be up past our bedtime. We would all go to Midnight Mass at Grandma’s catholic church she liked. Christmas Mass was always so special to me. Most kids would probably squirm impatiently through it, ready to get back home and open presents with the sunrise. But I really enjoyed it. Perhaps it was the act of kneeling beside my grandma, praying for something more important than ourselves. Perhaps it was the musky incense or the candles, or the medieval-style arches. Or perhaps it was just the Italian in me. Either way, it was a magical ritual-like thing to do at midnight. And I got to share that with my family. ❤ Then it was time to go home and get some more sleep. Because soon it would be 9am. And Will and I would be wide awake, yelling and squealing to the entire household that Santa had come.
Christmas morning in the Bertini household was loud and bursting with energy. Will and I ripped open our presents like animals– one at a time, though. The Bertini thing is that there’s an “order” to be followed. It’s the only disciplinary thing that reined us in, I think. Everyone had to take turns opening presents, and all attention had to go to the person opening it. It made opening gifts that much more special. And while we’d wait for it to be our turn to open a gift, we’d stuff our faces with Christmas cookies and milk for breakfast.
The rest of the day was spent playing out in the snow. Will and I would make snowmen and snow angels until our noses were red and our faces were numb and cold. Then we’d come inside and sit by the fire. Unlike Granny’s white one with pretty decorations, this one had few decorations– but it did have stockings (which were absolutely filled, thanks to Grandma and Aunt Cathy.) It was also a real fireplace. And there’s no better feeling than coming inside after playing in the snow all afternoon, and sitting beside a crackling fire with a cup of hot chocolate.
The Florida Christmas
Florida Christmases don’t have snow. They don’t have huge family time, with people coming in and out, bringing dish after dish. They don’t have basketball, or Midnight Mass, or fireplaces. But they have my parents. They have the smell of roast pork, stuffing, mashed potatoes and rolls. They have Bertini Christmas cookies. They have the smile on my mom’s face when she comes out in her Christmas nightgown that matches mine and her Santa hat. Florida Christmases have the comforting sound of my dad’s trumpet playing in his Christmas albums he recorded years ago, playing loud on our living room speakers. And they have the magical light of our Christmas tree. The Christmas traditions we had in Florida were so enjoyable because they’re a blend of both. With a little of our own flair, too.
Florida Christmases included drippy, gooey cinnamon rolls, stockings filled to the brim, Bertini-style Christmas cookies, Aubrey-style sweet potato pie, placing the Tinker Bell tree topper (we’re a Disney family!), watching Christmas movies, and opening presents while we listen to nostalgic holiday music.
An aside: I also participate in a personal tradition of my own, a few days before Christmas. I figured I’d share it here since we’re talking about a blend of tradition. The Irish side of me loves the idea of the Winter Solstice, which falls each year on the 21st. It’s celebrated in multiple cultures, Celtic especially, and honors the full arrival of winter. It’s a time to connect with nature and to reflect inward towards oneself, remembering the importance of hope in the midst of a typically cold, dark season. Most people who celebrate the solstice do some sort of spiritual ritual with fire. The flames represent light in a dark season and hope for the new year.
While I don’t go as “full-out” as others do who share this tradition, I do love using my neighbor’s fire pit. My ritual includes taking several pieces of paper, writing one thing on each paper that has caused me stress or negativity that past year, then tossing it in the fire and watching it burn to ash. It feels so freeing; as if I’m cleansing myself of negativity that no longer serves me and making room for positive energy, for the new year. Then afterwards, I eat whatever I made beforehand; usually meat and fruit. I love eating a homemade meat pie and finishing it with some apple slices sprinkled in cloves. (Spice cakes are also perfect for this!) Then it’s always nice to finish with a glass of spiced wine, while listening to Celtic winter music that’s as gentle and soft as snowflakes. The Winter Solstice is a tradition I will always hold close to my heart, so I wanted to mention it. It’s why Florida Christmases include this, too.
A Beautiful Blend
As I grow older, I find it more and more important to incorporate each side of my family’s traditions into Christmas celebrations. It gives me so much joy to eat scampi and Italian bread on Christmas Eve with a glass of wine, and then eat sweet potato pie while watching movies on Christmas Day. (And to light a solstice fire a few days before!) It feels as though I’ve found a delightful balance in celebrating the way both sides of my family do, while still keeping a tradition that truly feels like mine. 🙂
I hope you have a joyful blend of holiday traditions that you love, too! If you do, feel free to share them in the comments below! I’d love to know more about the way other mixed friends celebrate the holidays! And if you don’t have traditions with family that’s blood, that’s okay, too. This is your friendly reminder that family means something different for everyone. Family can be your friends, your significant other, your dog. Whatever your traditions may be, I’d love to hear them. ❤
Until next time…stay safe, stay healthy, #ownyourrainbow, have a Merry Christmas and have a wonderful holiday season!