When I think of Christmas, I think of big family celebrations. Not just our immediate family but inclusive of grandparents, aunties, uncles and cousins. Coming from an Italian background always meant that family get-togethers (whether Christenings, Birthdays, Weddings and the like) were big celebrations; attending Mass, coming together at someone’s home, tables groaning with food, lots of noise, friendly (or not so friendly) bocce games in the backyard, card games played late into the night whilst eating leftovers.
One particularly special Christmas springs to mind. A few years ago my whole family were lucky enough to be in North-East Italy at a beautiful little town called Bassano Del Grappa (at the foot of the Dolomites) in the province of Veneto. Steeped in history, it is also the large regional town nearby to the villages where my grandparents lived. My whole family was there with the exception of one of my brothers (whose wife had not long had a child) and my father, who had sadly passed away only a couple of years earlier.
For all of us it was finally living a dream, to spend a Christmas in the colder Northern climes. Along with a few cousins and a couple of ring-ins, we were a party of about 25.
We started Christmas day after the obligatory coffee, with our version of Kris Kringle. Everyone had been instructed to buy a present of no more than 20 Euros and it had to be bought locally (within Italy). The wrapped gifts were popped under a tree and then each person pulled a number out of a hat. Number 1 then picked a present from under the tree and opened it up in front of everyone to a lot of ooohs and ahhhs. Number 2 then had a choice of taking the present from the first person or picking another gift from under the tree and so on and so on. If you had your gift taken, you then picked another one from under the tree.
It turned into a game, with much laughter, particularly over some of the gifts that were particularly ‘treasured’. What was more important was that the focus was not about the presents themselves but rather on us being together and having fun, tons of fun. As it should be.
Christmas lunch was held in a restaurant in the heart of the old part of the town. Lots of vino, lots of delicious food, lots of chatter with everyone talking over the top of each other. Afterwards we went for a much-needed walk through the town, promenading as Italians do. And as if we did not have enough to drink, there was the visit to the Grapperia (over 30 different types of Grappa) near the old covered bridge, the walls still pockmarked by bullets from the days of Napoleon.
The biggest surprise awaited us two days later when it snowed during the night and we all woke up to a fairy wonderland, the whole square covered in snow. How exciting was that! Even more so for some of the younger family members who had not seen snow.
Christmas is a special time for us, whether we happen to be in the far-flung parts of Europe or enjoying a bbq in the heat of the Australian summer. I am filled with gratitude that my grandparents made their journey to start a new life in Australia; A place they were proud enough to call home, even though their lives had started many thousands of kilometres away. Their sacrifice and preparedness to do it tough to provide a better life for their family, my family, means that I have the opportunity to live my life in one of the best places on Earth. Now that deserves every bit of celebration. So from my family to yours, we wish you lots of joy and laughter for Christmas.
Leanne De Bortoli