I don’t know about you but I’ve always loved Christmas. When I was little I’d begin to count the days in excitement from the 1st of November, looking forward to the 1st of December when I could finally start opening the little windows of my Advent Calendar.
Advent Calendars! Weren’t they BRILLIANT?? I’d buy one now if I didn’t run the risk of looking slightly pathetic. And the temptation to peek inside the big 24th window, to see what pictures lay behind….
I’d go to bed so geared up I was sure I would NEVER fall alseep. I so wanted to catch baby Jesus coming into my house…
Yes, I know, my non-Italian friends… According to the myth, presents were brought TO baby Jesus and not BY baby Jesus. It should be the wise men, the Befena, St Nicholas, Santa Klaus or Amazon delivery service bringing presents to children, not a flying baby – no teeth, no ability to hold his head up, no rational thinking – surrounded by cherubs working as couriers for the occasion…
But, FIRST, this particular little baby is supposed to be GOD, so, excuse ME if as a child I used to take for granted he had qualities that normal babies lacked. If God wants to come to Earth in the shape of a baby and deliver gifts, it’s fine with me. Do you think it’s harder than, let’s say, design every single species of fish? Honestly, somebody smart enough to create the principle of thermo-dynamics and quantum physics shouldn’t bat an eye in front of the idea of turning into a baby bringing toys on the 24th of December.
WHICH, of course, is just a mix of Christian and pagan mythology… But let’s face it, it’s not less realistic than an overweight octuagenarian wearing a Coca Cola uniform coming down the chimney with is bag full of playstations and Nintendo DS…
Besides, nobody in Italy has chimneys…
As I wrote in my previous post, I seriously risked not being able to be in Italy for Christmas because of the snow.
I would have been devasted.
Christmas is the ONE celebration in my family that can’t be missed. In fact it’s the ONLY tradition we have left.
My mum has also always been a big Christmas fanatic. Oh mamma does Christmas BIG TIME!!!! She simply loves buying presents, which as you can imagine has always suited me just fine!! She adores finding exactly the right thing for everyone, and puts lots of effort into finding presents that you actually want, not a pair of socks or bath salts… Yes, a couple of years she did get it wrong, and I ended up with some oddly sexy underwear (was it a hint? FIND A MAN!!!!) but generally she’s just great.
Neither me or my sister have children so my mum still treats US as kids. Meaning, even now, she spends the weeks before the 25th buying us stuff that she hides in remote corners of the flat and only takes out on Christmas day as a surprise, yelling, Baby Jesus has come!!!
I know how it sounds… I can guarantee we’re not weirdos, some Norman Bates in a skirt, some pathetic over 35 Peter Pans… Of course we know it’s a bit silly. But it’s nice. I wouldn’t miss it for the world.
My parents are getting old, even though at the moment they’re in great shape, so this little family tradition is something I cherish very very deeply because I know it won’t go on forever. On a brighter note, it’s a moment of total fun when we allow ourselves to be children again, excited and happy. Finally, Christmas morning is just for the four of us – my parents, my sister and I – and it’s like reminding ourselves what we used to be. It’s sentimental, of course, it’s also a lie, because what we used to be wasn’t the perefct family where everyone’s happy and nice to each other. We had very bad times, like everyone. But we all like to create a narrative for our lives. And Christmas day’s narrative in my family is the reiteration of our happy times.
For these very reasons, when in London, I think of Christmas full of anticipation, looking forward to going “home”.
Of course reality sets in pretty quickly; and it’s enough to spend half a day at my parents’ to make me go insane.
The single bed where I’m sleeping is uncomfortable and the room is so full of flashing lights it looks like a disco club: every piece of technology my mum purchases seems to have at least a couple of pulsing lights that not only keep you awake but stimulate your brain. Half an hour in the room and you feel like you’ve taken extasy.
In order, I can list:
the computer mouse (red, pulsing)
the computer tower (blue)
the printer (green)
the wirless modem (blue, pulsing)
the cable line (red, flashing)
the cordless phone (yellow)
the socket next to the bookcase (orange)
the alarm clock (red).
So before I go to bed I make sure I unplug all this equipment whilst covering with cushions the things that can’t be unplugged (phone, cable).
When I get up from a sleepless night, my mum begins to give me instructions on all the things on her computer that need to be fixed. You must know I’m my family’s engineer, for some mysterious reasons. My mum’s computer, like her phone and her camera, could rightly find its place in the Museum of Archeological Technology. But if I dare suggesting she should upgrade to a more modern model to avoid all the problems she has, she won’t have it.
“They work perfectly well!!!” she shouts. (shouting is my mum’s default mode)
“Yes mum, they do, but PCs are not a washing machine! It’s not enough for them to be WORKING. They’re obsolete and can’t cope with the new software!”
“I just want you to fix the problem!”
When my mum and I finish arguing about her equipment, usually she entertains me on her email fights with the people she works with.
My mum returned to acting in her late 50s, after effectively a 25 years break. She’s so resilient and strong willed, she’s managed to build a little career for herself and I’m proud of her. She also has a little company, and half of her time is spent fighting like a mad horse with its director/author, Adamo. They fight on the phone, then she goes to the computer and writes him a 10 page email explaining in details why he pissed her off. And this can go on for weeks. Usually she copies me in the emails so I can give her my opinion. And as soon as I get home she updates me on the ongoing battle. There’s always some new piece of drama.
At the end of this, usually my mum passes to her second favourite subject: how terrible my sister’s life is. This usually goes on for a while. I have lots of sympathy and concern for my sister and I know her work situation is not nice. But my mum makes it sound so dramatic Iraqi refugees in comparison seem like a jolly good lot.
By the 23rd of December I’m ready to catch a plane back home.
But then Christmas eve comes…
On Christmas Eve both me and my sister stay at my parents overnight, the only night in the year when that happens. We usually try to watch an uplifiting film, which means my mum after 10 minutes is doing something else, my dad is asleep and Lisa and I juggle between the film and various conversation. Towards the end of the movie mum comes back and pretends to be filled in on what’s happened in the past hour; dad wakes up and proclaims the film to be rubbish… This year for instance we watched It’s a wonderful life. My mum left us after the first scene to boil some fish she was going to need for her starters, while my dad instead of falling alseep started working on his laptop. Lisa and I kept watching while practising some Pilates excercises that could be good for her back…
At the end mum returned and said, Oh, but this isn’t the one with William Holden… Why didn’t you tell me?
Of course she thought we were watching Love is a wonderful thing…
The moment we open our presents Christmas morning is special. However, in the last decade I’m usually sleepy and annoyed because everyone else in my family wants to get up ridiculously early. When I was a kid I was the one waking my parents up at 6am to check whether baby Jesus had come. But nowadays I sort of know there would be presents to open in the morning, so why bother leaving my bed at dawn????
Unfortunately my family has never learned the art of a LIE IN. Eight am is the middle of the morning for my parents, who get up at six even on a Sunday. My sister is also a very early bird.
So eight o’ clock it is…
Like my mum, I also love buying people presents and see their reaction when they open them. I also like making cards, as I said before, and surprise them with new designs. We giggle while unwrapping boxes and my dad complains every time somebody dares buying him “old man stuff” such as socks, scarves and slippers.
It’s FUN!!!! It’s like a time-less bubble…
Then lunch time comes, and the bubble disappears.
Christmas lunch has always been generally dull. At around midday we leave the flat to go to my aunt’s who lives just outside Milan. My dad is always ready to go an hour before the set time, and argues with my mum who accuses him of being obsessed with punctuality. “Relax!” She yells, sounding like the least relaxed person in Northern Italy. “It’s Christmas!! It’s Early!!!! RELAXXXX!!!”
I’m usually late. First of all I feel sleepy, second I can never decide what to wear. So I end up being yelled at by the rest of the family. This year we had a hilarious moment when we were trying to call a lift to get to down to the garage (we’re on the 7th floor). But both lifts were busy. At some point Lisa manages to book one. when it comes up to our floor, the door opens and this totally spaced out old couple comes out. They’re obviously NOT where they thought they should be.
“hello,” Lisa says. “you’re on the 7th floor.”
The lady looks at her in panic. “Oh, I thought… where is… the bus…”
“Which floor are you after?” Lisa asks trying not to laugh.
“Second or third” the lady replies. Great. Then she returns in the lift, from where her husband is staring at us as if we’d been trying to mug them. My mum jumps in with them. “I’m going down to the groundfloor with them,” she announces. “I’m sure we’ll find out which family they’re after.
However, unlike most years, this Christmas lunch was quite nice, and neither my sister or I had moments when we wanted to pull out our hair in sheer boredom. The day went down pretty well, thanks to three elements:
1) No major mistakes in my aunt’s cooking. Which meant no complaints from my mum and no arguments. Ravioli are crucial in deciding whether Christams lunch is acceptable or not. Often my aunt screws them up, but this year she’s managed to produce perfectly edible and tasty ones, hurray.
2) the presence of 2 kids (kindly provided by my cousin Greta, the only female in my family currently reproducing)
3) No visit from distant cousins who used to appear every Christmas just before dessert. They offer the dullest conversations in the universe and we have to nicely reply to their idiotic questions while wondering to ourselves who the hell they are. This year they miraculously failed to turn up.
It’s evening now and Christmas 2010 is officially over. We start all over again tomorrow with Boxing Day, and my mum’s monumental lunch. I’m going to spend the whole of next week here, at the end of which I’m sure I’m going to be positively neurotic, but hey, it’s part of Christmas…