Priorities and the Holiday Season
I’ve always loved to give gifts, in December or any time of the year.
I was born and raised into a large Catholic, Italian-American family, and attended parochial schools from kindergarten through high-school, and on into college.
So, Christmas has always been a special part of my life.
I grew up in Rochester, New York, in the inner-city, in the shadow of the international home office of the Eastman Kodak Company. Our solid red-brick home was a double house that we shared with my Mom’s sister and her family.
Each Christmas Eve, a countless number of aunts, uncles, cousins, extended family members, and friends would rally to our Erie Street home and celebrate the festivities.
My Mom and Dad never had a lot of money, nor did the majority of our extended family members, but there we were, every Christmas Eve (and many times, every WEEK), gathered together to celebrate the given activities.
Before it was called “Black Friday” (or maybe it was always called that?), on the day after Thanksgiving, my same-age cousins and I would begin to plan our little Christmas gifts, while the adults in the family would pick names for their “Secret Santa” exchange.
While the older family members would budget their Secret Santa for anywhere from $20.00 to $50.00, my cousins and I would focus our funds on the special sales at the local Woolworth stores, sometimes called the “Five and Dime,” in generic terms, long before their contemporary counterparts popped up as the Dollar Stores of today.
For the aunts, we’d purchase small-ticket items like mug-trees (which were big in the ’70s), sometimes without the mugs, and beer mugs or hankies for the uncles. And the price was always right: 3 mugs for $2.00; hankies, two for $1.00, and so on.
When McDonald’s debuted their Christmas gift-certificates for $5.00 a booklet, and $.50 cents a piece that opened up a whole new world of gift-giving.
What great fun we had. The simple treasures were immense. All that mattered, more than anything else, was that we were all together on Christmas Eve.
Whatever life existed outside of that red-brick house on Christmas Eve was non-existent, as we far as we were all concerned.
We had enough food to feed beyond the 40 or so people that would fill the kitchen, living room, and front sitting room, many years of which were connected by various folding tables that were stretched from wall to wall.
We were cramped but we called it cozy. We were strapped financially, but we somehow knew everything would be okay.
We certainly ate well.
Homemade ravioli; lasagna; shrimp scampi; turkey, assorted gravies, calamari sauce, hills of endless fruit and various forms of nuts for after-dinner snacks. And then when midnight arrived, for those not attending Midnight Mass, for some reason, fried sausage followed by what we called “pizza-frite” (pronounced “freet”), which was fried dough with confectionary sugar!
But a little after dinner, and sometimes before or following the sausage and pizza-frite,” and after the uncles would gather next door to play cards, we’d all gather around the Christmas tree in the front sitting room, with the decorative red bells chiming the famed “Jingle Bells” carol, as they hung in the twin windows.
It was time to open the gifts, which were distributed, alternately, over the years by various designated family members.
The joy my cousins and I received when our aunts and uncles opened those gifts of mug trees and beers, hankies, and other small items were and remain simply immeasurable.
But I remember more than anything, not the gifts but the love the receiver felt when opening those precious presents, and the love I received in return.
From those early moments on I knew how important it was to love more the gift-giver than the gift.
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