I reckon I’ve belonged to four families so far, if a family can be thought of as a bunch of people you spend Christmas with.
All four families were very different, but all four Christmasses were the same in essence, which I don’t need to spell out but will anyway - gifts; food and drink; laughter and love; the occasional spat and reconciliation; exhaustion and unexpected energy reserves… I didn’t need to, did I? So I’d like to have a look at the differences.
When I was growing up, Christmas was a time to be taken for granted, of course – I was a child, and children have the feelings they’re taught to and don’t question them much, do they? So I won’t dwell on childhood Christmasses except to note that gifts were pretty frugal: this was the forties and fifties, and though my parents were well off by most people’s standards, there wasn’t that much left over for extravagance, which in any case wasn’t in their nature. So our stockings would be bulked out with tangerines and walnuts – strangely, those are the gifts I seem to remember most vividly.
Then I joined an Italian family. The emphasis there was on the food and drink. I read an article recently which feared that this was in danger of dying out, and there’s probably a risk of that, but I have few direct connections with Italy any more, so can’t say. My Italian family was from Reggio-Emilia, which meant antipasto, then capelletti (or tortellini) alla panna (in cream; none of your wimpish brodo round there), then a huge bollito misto with salsa verde and rosso; cheese (appropriate wines to accompany all that, often home-made lambrusco, but not as you might know it – real lambrusco is raspingly dry and low in alcohol, drunk more in the manner and quantities we’d drink bitter); various desserts probably including zuppa inglese (English soup: trifle to you); rounded off with coffee, a slice of panettone and a grappa or cognac or several. After all that there wasn’t much time, space or energy for anything else.
The third and fourth families will be along tomorrow.