Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Christmas with The Carbones: Part 1

Carbone means coal in Italian. It's also my grandparents' surname, mother's maiden name, and a proud reflection of my southern Italian ancestry. And when the Carbones do Christmas it's 24 hours of feasts and follies.

The main event is in the kitchen where we stage a nonstop cook-a-thon that begins at dawn on Christmas Eve and continues until the final pot of coffee has been brewed on Christmas night. For good measure we throw in a few other holiday traditions: an hour in church, some gifts, a walk on the beach, some impromptu sing-alongs, and LOTS and LOTS of laughter.

Part 1: Christmas Eve:

For as long as I can remember, my family has been having fish on Christmas Eve and this year was no different, except instead of the usual 7 types of fish, we scaled down to three: shrimp cocktail, crab cakes and tilapia with capers and tomato. The meal with paired with a gorgeous Arnaldo Giolito Chardonnay, a gift from my Piemontese summer host family.

If I do say so myself (and I do), the star of Christmas Eve dinner was my "melt in your mouth" tiramisu. I took a tip from Emeril Lagasi and threw in a little Vin Santo (an Italian dessert wine). Sure I broke the rules of a traditional Italian tiramisu but my version was creamy yet light, and the Vin Santo (Italian for holy wine) gave it a curiously good kick!

In hindsight, the holy wine had me feeling anything but at our 10 o'clock Christmas Eve mass, and instead I was holding back giggles throughout the service. I walked in with best intentions but after only a few minutes I knew it would require all of my discipline to keep a straight face.

It began with the church choir. In years past I'd heard them belt out beautiful renditions of Handel's Messiah and Joy to the World, so I was expecting great things. But as we all know, one bad apple can spoil the bunch and this apple was majorly off pitch. Not just a little flat or sharp - she was singing in a different key altogether. Each time she hit a piercing note I thought sure I had wandered onto the set of Sister Act 3 and Whoopie would be walking through the door any minute.

Well, Whoopie never surfaced but my grandmother unknowingly and ever-so-endearingly provided enough humor for the evening.

She and my grandfather are devout Catholics, never miss a Sunday in church, and are usually among the most serious at mass. However there was something in the air this Christmas Eve that even had my grandmother fighting to keep a straight face.

Apparently her oversensitive sense of smell had picked up on the trail of someone's unfortuante gas problem a few pews ahead of us. She leaned over to explain the situation to my mother who tried to pretend nothing was happening. To remedy the problem in subtle fashion, my grandmother decided to wrap her scarf around her face and nose as she was praying.

Then there was the priest. He spoke with fantastic charisma and confidence when he was reading from the scriptures. But when it came time to talking off the cuff he choked. Perhaps it was his first holiday mass, perhaps he too had picked up on the scent, but for whatever reason he tripped over every 3rd word in his sermon. It was almost as difficult to follow as the stuttering cross-examiner in My Cousin Vinny. I did my best but I'm sorry to say, I was more confused than inspired by the end.

When it came time to offer a sign of peace to our neighbors, my grandmother (who had unveiled her face by now) shook hands graciously with those around her as she smiled and recited, "peace be with you." Seconds later I heard low rumblings on her end of the pew and realized that she was squirting globs of Purell anti-bacterial sanitizer into her hands. According to Nana, you never know when the germs will get you and it's better to be safe than sorry, even at Christmas Eve mass.

To be Continued...

1 comment:

prrfectcat said...

courtney that was sooooo funny about church xmas eve omg if i was there i would been hysterical. talk to you soon love aunt cathy