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We celebrated Christmas with our relatives from New York.

They had come with tons of presents and Italian desserts, which were purchased in Little Italy in New York.

We had presents for them as well. My aunt Giovannina was a real artist when it came to gift wrapping; she wrapped the presents in boxes using gift wrapping papers in vivid colors and then adorning them with red and green ribbons. She put them under the Christmas tree, which was decorated with brightly colored lights, and whole house was decorated to create a nice festive picture. The presents were very simple and useful things, such as a pair of gloves and a scarf or silk socks, or some trinkets. For me, giving presents on Christmas was absolutely new. “Babbo Natale” or Santa Claus was not known in Italy yet. The kids would wait for the Epiphany, on January 6th, when according to the story, an old woman, the Befana, would bring goodies like nougats, chocolate bars, candies, dried fruits, and, for those kids who had not been good, the inevitable charcoal. The Befana brought presents only to the youngest children, while Santa Claus brought presents to everyone. I liked both the giving of presents and receiving them. We opened the boxes carefully, making sure the ribbons and the paper remained intact to be reused for next Christmas.

We, my aunt and I, had put a lot of effort into the menu to have a meal that was both traditional and delicious. Everything down to the Christmas desserts, everything was made with special care.

My aunt even made me iron the embroidered tablecloth that she had brought with her; she kept it in her linen cabinet and only used it on special holidays. Dishes and tableware, which had been stored carefully wrapped in linen napkins, were brought out for the big holiday meal.

We prepared the big dinner; we even roasted the chestnuts that had arrived from Italy.

It was important to make a good impression on the relatives from New York. Yes, making a “good impression” is always important, but it was especially important on the magical holiday of Christmas.

The meal went very well; my father with his keen sense of humor, kept us all laughing and smiling and my uncle Paul added to the genial atmosphere. They told stories of the old village and of their lives; even the saddest stories were told with so much hilarity that we couldn’t resist laughing at them.

My cousin Lenny had come home from college for the holidays. After finishing high school, he had been accepted at the University of Connecticut and he was now studying engineering. Even my friends from “our gang” had left for college and we only got together when they came back home on the weekends. I had no desire to “go out with the gang” ...for the moment.

After the meal and after we cleaned up the kitchen, someone took out the Tombola game. It was a game that was traditionally associated with Christmas. Everyone joined in as we played for very low stakes, pennies, and it was a lot of fun.

In the week between Christmas and New Year's, we took turns visiting friends in the evening after dinner and they us. We ended our evenings playing tombola and sometimes even cards. My uncle had an old Neapolitan card deck, all worn out from years and years of use. They were still in their original box. No one cared that they were old and worn, they had fun playing “scopa” and some other games that I did not even know the name of.

Delia Socci Skidmore