I have lots of fond memories of celebrating Christmas at our home. I am the oldest with 5 younger brothers. It certainly was very noisy!
We started making Christmas cookies weeks ahead – oatmeal raisin, and sugar cookies. My mom would let us decorate the sugar cookies with red and green sugar and we always made a total mess on the table! I let my kids do the same and now my grandkids. Our manger was put up on the first Sunday of Advent along with our Advent Wreath which was lit every night during dinner with the knowledge that Christmas would be here soon once all of the candles were lit. My mom would leave baby Jesus out of the manger until Christmas morning. I still have my mom’s Advent Wreath and manger and carried on these traditions with my kids. I also still light a candle each night at dinner during the Advent season. Because we are Sicilians we also celebrated the Feast of Santa Lucia or Saint Lucy on December 13th. We would not eat anything made with wheat, but would eat whole wheat berries that my mom cooked for hours with water, bay leaves, salt, and sometimes chickpeas. I still make the wheat berries using my mom’s recipe.
My father loved his family and the holidays. He would wait until Christmas Eve to get our tree – the tree lot was at the top of our street and trees were 75 cents on Christmas Eve – and we never saw our tree until Christmas morning. Santa put it up and decorated it and it was always beautiful! Christmas Eve, my brothers and I would sit on the couch and sing Christmas songs. We could not wait to see our tree and the gifts.
Christmas morning we would line up on the stairs and peek down at the tree! Then, we were marched out to mass at St. Anthony’s Church on Olden Avenue in Trenton through the back door of the house so we could not see any of the Christmas decorations until after mass. My mother always made us say “Happy Birthday!” to baby Jesus before opening gifts and I always made my kids put baby Jesus in our manger before they opened their presents. Thank goodness for my godmother, Aunt Mary, who did not have children of her own at the that time and helped Santa put gifts under the tree. My favorite gift was an inexpensive camera.
When we got older we would help decorate the tree and get in trouble if our tinsel wasn’t perfectly placed on each branch to look like an icicle. My brothers would tease my mom and not do it her way. I still have one “War Ball” left, made by my mom during WWII. Decorations were hard to come by back then and she made them with clear glass balls, glue, and glitter. I will always treasure it.
Josephine’s Wheat Berries
Clean one pound of wheat berries, removing any stones.
Put them in a large pot – 6-8 quarts – and rinse several times, pouring off water and being careful not to lose any wheat berries. Fill the pot with water to about 3 inches above the wheat. Add: 3 bay leaves, 1/2 teaspoon of salt (or salt to taste), and 2-3 teaspoons of sugar. After the pot comes to a boil, reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for three hours, stirring once in a while.
Happy holidays to all of you and many blessings for a Happy New Year,
Margie Mangione, Travel Advisor