By Theresa Caruso, December, 2019

Over coffee, a friend recently put it to me quite clearly:  “Holidays are all about family!”

So it has always been in my house. The Holiday Season was a magical time of year of which I have so many fond memories…watching Rudolph and the Grinch on TV, sneaking around with my cousins to find the hidden Christmas presents, lying beneath the Christmas tree gazing at the nativity, the ornaments, the twinkling lights and listening to Dad’s record of Perry Como’s Christmas carols. My Mom made sure the house was cleaned spic and span, all cozy for winter, ready for company and smelling of bay candle, sugar, spice and everything nice.

Sometimes my Dad would regale us with tales of his childhood Christmases. A child of the Depression, he received oranges and walnuts in his Christmas stocking. (My brother, sister and I were horrified at the thought.)  There was no money for Christmas decorations, so my grandmother put a statue of a pizzaman under the Christmas tree. You know the classic “pizzaman” found in the windows of old-school pizzerias, dressed in his white apron and chef hat, big mustache, holding a pizza high in the air. Because of this, my father, as a boy, believed that the pizzaman was Santa Claus.

Christmas Eve Dinner was the height of the festivities when all the family would gather together. Preparations were made in advance as my Mom and aunts congregated to cook for the “Feast of the Seven Fishes.”  It was as much a social gathering as a time to get work done. All the while, they would banter, laugh, and argue about things… how long to soak the baccala, who was going to kill the crabs, how spicy to make the scungilli sauce.

When Christmas Eve arrived, you could just feel the excitement. All the folding tables and chairs were set up, the good tablecloths and napkins brought out. No matter how many people came, everyone had a spot at the table. You knew you had to settle in for the long haul because you’d be at the table for hours as course after course was presented. And even when the last course was served, everyone would still linger for more talk, more laughter, sometimes even a spontaneous burst into song. We’d join in singing an old Italian Christmas carol – an homage to the old country – for those who still spoke the language or, at the very least, could remember the words.

As I got older, I began to see that what made the Holidays special was not any gift under the Christmas tree. It was all of us being together – sharing good times. It was family. And, I speak of this not just in terms of my own experience. I know you can all relate – you all have special family memories this time of year – no matter what holiday you celebrate, what beliefs you hold, what your family traditions are. Family is the most important thing. It gives our lives meaning and it is the glue that binds us together.

These days, the Holidays are not the same as they used to be. Don’t get me wrong, I still have wonderful holidays with my family but it’s different.   The family has gotten smaller. There aren’t 25 people around the table. Some relatives have moved away or some are “on-the-outs”. Sadly, others have passed away. No one cares as much to keep with traditions. And, although, I am the preserver of Christmas traditions past, when I prepare the “Feast of the Seven Fishes”, it is not quite the same cooking for the carb-counters and cholesterol-watchers.

According to the Merriam Webster dictionary, “family” is defined as a group descending from a common ancestor. As the Holidays have changed, so must our definition of family. It has expanded to encompass more than just a blood-relation. A family consists of people who love, support and guide each other. They’re the people you can trust, depend on and can call on anytime anywhere knowing they will be there for you. They are your confidantes and your critics in the best sense of the word. They are the people with whom you share a common interest that unites you.

And so, although my “blood” family has gotten smaller, my family has gotten bigger. There is a family here at Yoga Shanti. And it’s not just because we see each other day-in and day-out and share our yoga practice.  It’s so much more than that. Sitting here at the reception desk, I am a voyeur who gets to really see the yoga family in action. I watch the exchange of laughter and even tears. I see the hug given to buoy up someone going through a rough time, hear the advice given to someone faced with a dilemma, the congratulations wished to a new grandmother, the concerned inquiry about someone who is ill, the consoling words of sorrow at someone’s loss. There’s the ride offered to someone wishing to attend class but has no car or the invitation for everyone to meet after class for coffee. This is more than just community. Yes, it feels like family, is family, and although it can be dysfunctional at times as every family is, it is really quite wonderful to experience. What’s even better is that I get to partake and be a family member, too!. For this, I feel lucky and I thank you for including me!

And so, this Holiday season, I propose a toast:  “Alla Famiglia!” (To Family!)

Together may we have the Happiest, Healthiest and Most Joyous Holiday Season ever!

Theresa Caruso

Theresa Caruso hails from Staten Island and is now enjoying “la dolce vita” living in Sag Harbor and working at Yoga Shanti. She is a bookkeeper, chef and aspiring yogini.

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