by Andrew Koslosky KGCHS, Contributing Writer
It is that time of year where everyone seems a little bit brighter, and everyone seems to have that extra bounce in their step.
We seem to be more polite and even seem to walk with smiles on our faces. We are friendlier and more charitable. It is truly a wonderful time of the year. Did you ever ask why…why for these days, be- tween Thanksgiving and New Years, the world is a different place? Searching for an explanation as to why, you have to go back to examine our history and our “Traditions”.
“Traditions”…a very strange word in our society today. The definition of “Traditions”…A long established custom or belief that has been passed from generation to generation to another. We don’t seem to honor many of our ‘Traditions’ like our brothers and sisters in other countries. Yet even so, there are some “Traditions” during the Holiday Season that seem to buck the trend.
For me, I remember like it was yesterday, coming home from school or coming home from work early on Christmas Eve.
For almost forty years I prepared for and took part in the traditional Christmas Eve concert and Midnight Mass. Whether it was in a small neighborhood Church or at places like St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York, whether as a member of a choir or as a featured professional, music was always such a big part of my Holiday tradition.
Christmas just wasn’t Christmas without the Christmas Concert and the Midnight Mass.
I also remember Christmas Eve as a time where I could rush around and finish some last-minute shopping that had to wait for that Holiday bonus check in order to get done.
I remember running around looking for the perfect gift or gifts based on how much my bonus was. Honestly speaking…even years later, I laugh, because after many years of being much more established, I still tend to wait until the last minute to finish Christmas gift shopping.
One of the things I remember fondly was watching my mom and her sisters bake on December 23. It was here where the ladies prepared homemade goodies leaving a kitchen full of cookies, struffoli, pastries and breads for the Christmas Eve and Christmas Day feasts.
Each year, like clockwork, they worked into the early hours of the morning. You could hear the laughing and giggles while Bing, Frank, Nat and Dean sang Christmas favorites in the background…As the years went by, the tradition transitioned to standing in a long line at Brooklyn’s famous Ariola’s Bakery to purchase Pastries and Cannolis. Not a bad option after my aunts passed away and the baking part of our “Traditions’’ passed with them.
Christmas Eve day was the time for mom to prepare the fish and the pasta for the tradition of the seven fishes’ feast.
I recall among my favorites being the fried Cod fish and Cod fish balls in tomato sauce. I also remember the look on my mother’s face when I would sneak a piece of Cod fish when she took it out of the pan to drain.
She made it with love but if I tried to grab a second piece, I would risk having to avoid the oncoming wooden spoon thrown in my direction. Still, I confess, it was worth the risk… The Christmas concert and the Midnight Mass were always special. The church was standing room only in those days.
All of our priests participated, a full set of altar boys, and there was a beautifully decorated church and a nativity scene to remind us of the main reason for the season.
I remember the ultimate respect that was present in the church. You genuinely felt like you were in God’s home. The placing of the baby Jesus in the manger at Midnight, truly gave us hope for the future and we embraced it with great reverence each year.
Sadly, it is not always what I witness today. Santa visited our house while we were at Midnight Mass.
So, under our tree would be a full array of gifts for the family when we made our way home. We were also greeted with a feast of Italian antipasto, cold cuts and artisan breads.
After eating and opening the gifts, we finally made our way to bed at about 4am. I wonder how many of you remember the Sears Wishbook.
As a youngster it was one of our “Traditions” to be given that big red book after Santa showed up on Thanksgiving during the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. We got to pick what we wanted Santa to bring for Christmas.
Of course, years later I would find out how mom used her Sears credit card to make sure we got everything we wanted at Christmas. She probably just finished paying last year’s bill off when we were ready for another round. Mom did a great job, especially considering my father passed away at an early age.
Of course, on Christmas day, mom was up early preparing her Christmas feast. We would finally wake up around 10am to all the wonderful aromas coming from the kitchen.
It was my job to set the table for an early Christmas dinner. Much of the afternoon was spent watching two movie classics, Miracle on 34th Street and It’s a Wonderful Life. Family dinner and visits from friends continued going into the later part of the evening.
Once again, a wonderful tradition of foods featuring Lasagna, Fresh Ham, Chicken Spiedini, Sausage and Peppers (because I insisted), and a special Italian dessert of Amaretto Ricotta Cheesecake along with various other homemade sweets.
We lived in East New York Brooklyn in the 1970’s which was one of the toughest neighborhoods in all the country.
It inspired a movie, and a book called The Seven Five, which was the name of our Police Precinct. It was a neighborhood full of people who had very little from the mate- rial side, as poverty was the affliction. Yet upon reflection, I wouldn’t trade those years for anything.
We had very little…but we had everything. Life was simple and we embraced our “Traditions.” What a wonderful feeling to embrace and share our “Traditions.”
I very much now appreciate what I was taught in those years. In some ways, I miss those Christmas years. So, what Lessons have I learned? Well…material things are useless when not surrounded by a family and friends to share with.
It will never matter what your financial status may be, as the things we will learn to miss the most…are the people we shared those special times with.
There you have it in a nutshell, the reason why “Traditions” are essential. In today’s world, full of major divisions… we continue to move further and further away from what truly makes us happy in life.
The good news of Christmas serves as a reminder that even in this world of change, the message of Christmas is endless.
It is the celebration of the birth of God’s Son, Jesus. His message of Love, Hope and Joy, does not change from year to year. And so, as we celebrate the coming of the baby Jesus, I leave you with one of my favorite ideas for a new “Tradition.”
Wouldn’t it be a great New Year’s resolution to try and live the Christmas Spirit throughout the whole year? Now that would be a great new “Tradition.”
May the Spirit of Christmas continue to be a force in your life all year long, and May God bless you and your families with all the peace, happiness and love you deserve. A very Merry Christmas and Happy Healthy New Year to you all. May the smiles on our faces continue the whole year through.