Life in 2017 was certainly not like life in 1967.
In 1967, our parents were still holding on to the 1950s and just weren’t ready to make the jump to lightspeed and into the future. Holidays were always reserved for family, but the 1960s were a time of change and for the first time, geography was getting in the way of family gatherings.
During the great Eastern migration to Long Island in the late 1960s, many of our parents became separated from their parents for the first time by more than just a couple of blocks. Previously, the question of where you were spending Thanksgiving and Christmas never even came up—you were going to Grandma’s house. If you were lucky enough to have two sets of grandparents still alive, you either split the holidays or made two visits in the same day.
It’s rare today that a single family has more than just two or three children, but back then it was common to have five or six. My mother and father had six siblings each, so that’s a lot of aunts, uncles and cousins. We didn’t have a lot of friends because we didn’t need them, we had cousins. Lots of them.
Thanksgiving and Christmas celebrations in Italian households are legendary and our family was no different. The coordination of resources in the tiny kitchen area required military precision. We were barely tall enough to see over the top of the counter, but when we would venture out into the workspace, there were wooden spoons, aprons and bee-hive hairdos as far as the eye could see. Every one of my aunts had a specific job, while every one of my uncles was upstairs taking a pre-meal nap in preparation for their post-meal nap.
As kids, our biggest gripe was having to leave the plethora of toys we got from Santa under our tree when it was time to go out. Our mother’s all had the same rule—pick one toy to take with you and nothing with a lot of pieces. There was really no need to bring any new toys with you since you were about to reap a new bonanza from your aunts and uncles.
All my cousins showed up with a different toy and once we got there, we couldn’t wait to start playing with them. Sal had the Great Garloo and I brought my new GI Joe. The girls brought girly things the boys would make fun of, but in the end, everyone fought over that inedible cupcake from the Easy Bake Oven. My Aunt Maria, who was only three years older than us cousins, always had the newest Beatles record. With no parents in sight, we would gather in the back room, immersing ourselves into our own make-believe world.
Rummaging through old clothes and accessories we found in a storage closet, we invented and performed in “The Funny Show,” creating ridiculous characters that would tell jokes and get into outlandish situations. Sometimes we would make believe we were the Beatles or the Monkees and perform their hit records. Everyone would play a part and the show wouldn’t end until it was time for dinner. There were no rules; we just entertained ourselves with whatever we could find back there.
As we grew and began to have families of our own, our holiday landing spots shifted to our own parents and with our own siblings. My brother and I have been lucky enough to split the Christmas holidays as both of our spouses celebrated on Christmas Eve with their families. That still allowed us to maintain our Christmas Day tradition with our parents, providing our children with traditions involving both sets of grandparents.
New rituals now include exchanging gifts with one set of cousins on Christmas Eve and a big Christmas dinner and more gifts with another set of cousins on Christmas Day.
As we head into a new year, we mourn those we might have lost, but we are thankful for those that are still here. Family traditions for Christmas and holidays are the most important things you can impart to your children. The lyrics from the Christmas favorite “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” remind us: “Through the years we all will be together, if the fates allow…”
May the fates allow you and your families to enjoy many, many holidays together as you begin or continue traditions that provide your family with memories that will last a lifetime.
I hope you had a wonderful and happy holiday season, dear readers, and stay safe.