I have the blessing to have been born on Dec. 25, the day that on the calendar is Christmas Day. Since I was a small child, I heard people say, “You must hate being born on Christmas; don’t you feel cheated?” Cheated because I didn’t have one day that was designated just for me, a celebration of my birth where only I got the attention and presents? Cheated because people might give everyone a Christmas present and give me a combination Christmas/birthday gift? Cheated because wrappings, decorations and cakes, had Santas, trees with holiday lights, and jolly snowmen, not birthday ribbons, candles or balloons?
Even now, when I register at a doctor’s office, the DMV, or anywhere I might need to give my birth date, I still hear, “Didn’t you just hate having a Christmas birthday?”
I smile and say, “No, my mom and my family always made it special for me.”
As far back as I can remember, my mom told me that it was special to share a birthday with Baby Jesus. Our household celebrated many traditions every holiday but especially at Christmas. On Christmas Eve we decorated the tree, then dinner at my maternal grandparents’ where the grown-ups feasted on a meal of the seven fishes and grandma had plates of spaghetti for the grandchildren.
After dinner, my Aunt Mary played the piano while my cousin, sisters and I wrapped ourselves in grandma’s shawls and danced around the living room as if we were performing on some imagined stage. Then, home we went. We lived only a few miles away from my grandparents’ Highland Park home. My three sisters and I hung our stockings, put on our new pajamas (an early present), and left cookies for Santa and carrots for the reindeer. Then, we headed to bed.
Early Christmas morning, my sisters and I woke our parents. No one was allowed downstairs until mom and dad were up. We all got that one special toy we asked for and a few surprises. When it was time to dress and leave for church, we were a bit disappointed. We didn’t like leaving our new baby dolls, board games and Slinkys.
That disappointment didn’t last long. Walking into church, candles glowed and red poinsettias surrounded the lectern. A creche, with sheep, shepherds and the Holy Family filled the steps that led to the altar. After Mass, I knelt at the creche and prayed to Baby Jesus. Since I shared a birthday with Him, I left a present of a miniature toy car or a foil covered chocolate Santa. It was magical for me.
During the afternoon, we visited our paternal grandparents. We drank mint ginger ale and ate struffuli, little tiny fried balls of dough drenched in honey with multi-colored sprinkles.
Later Christmas afternoon, we returned to our maternal grandparents’ home. Grandma finished the last of the home-made gnocchi. She tossed them into boiling water until cooked just right and covered them with sauce.
They remain my pasta of choice. When I think about those Christmases, I wonder how grandma managed two magnificent dinners in two days.
Our family, along with assorted aunts, uncles,and cousins, gathered around my grandparents’ dining room table. No one minded that the plates and glasses didn’t match. My dad and uncles carried in chairs from the kitchen. We grandchildren fussed about whose turn it was to sit on the stool. Plates of the gnocchi were served. Meatballs, braciole (a flank steak pounded thin, filled with bread crumbs and parsley, rolled and tied with string), roasted chicken, salad and vegetables were in abundance.
It was a joyous event being together with family.
Once the dinner table was cleared, mom stepped in to transform the dining room. Out came the birthday cake with candles! The family sang “Happy Birthday” and I opened birthday presents wrapped in pastel colors. I blew out the candles and made a wish. It was an exciting Christmas and a wonderful birthday. Perhaps it was because all the extended family gathered at my grandparents’ for Christmas that made my day even more special. This was a once a year occasion, one my sisters didn’t have on their birthdays.
Mom told me years ago, a lot of years, that having a Christmas birthday was special.
She’s the one who made it such a memorable birthday. Now, in our family, celebrating my birthday on Christmas is a holiday tradition. Last Christmas, our daughter started another tradition.
She said, “Mom why should you wait until after dinner to celebrate your birthday?” She served birthday cake for breakfast! Cheated on my birthday?... Not ever!
Francesca Capozzi-Alvin is a retired Pittsburgh Public Schools teacher who lives in O’Hara (email@example.com).