Christmas was always associated with an abundance of food, most of which was purchased locally. (Not owning a car wasn’t unusual for many Middle Village families.) My mother bought her meat from Ben DeSimone’s shop on 69th Road (and later 79th Street); our vegetables came from the Flatow Brothers’ shop. Most other groceries came from the local A&P or Bohack’s. Obeying the Catholic Church’s Christmas Eve meatless dictum, a huge supply of fish and shellfish was prepared, including seafood: eel, octopus, squid, crabs, some rather exotic, etc.
The bill of fare on Christmas Day always included my mother’s homemade ravioli or lasagna. (Even if we ate at my grandmother’s house in Greenpoint, my mother still made her own special ravioli). I can still remember the huge bowls and platters filled with pasta, meatballs, bracciole, roast beef. We had to leave room for the mountain of homemade baked goods – bowties, struffoli and other assorted cookies and pastries. We were hardly affluent, but we sure ate like royalty. (At the time I assumed everyone ate like that).
Christmas always brought special rituals: wreaths and candles were placed in the windows; family tree ornaments, some dating back to the thirties, adorned our tree along with the traditional tinsel; there was even a card game which was played only Christmas Eve at my grandmother’s house in Greenpoint. It was a variant of blackjack called “7 1/2”, (not to be confused with Fellini’s “8 1/2.”)
My dearest memories of Christmas Eve are those spent singing with the St. Margaret’s Church Choir at Midnight Mass. I did that from the age of 18 until I was 23. After mass my friends and I went to my someone’s house to eat sausages, another Italian tradition.
Although we started Christmas shopping early, I can remember my mother still doing last-minute shopping on Christmas Eve at stores like Scheinfeld’s or Oscar’s. If I had to choose my all-time favorite Christmas gift, it would have to be a baseball game that my Aunt Millie gave me in 1947. It was called “All-Star Baseball” and it was played using cards representing the All-Star Players of the 1946 season. My cousin and I played in incessantly, keeping score and maintaining ongoing records. kept that game for 20 years. Later, I bought the Fifties’ version of the game. I also must mention as a special gift, the Lionel train set I received a year or so later. (I’m not sure what happened to that set, but I sure wish I still had it.)
In my mind, I always seem to associate Christmas with snow and its related activities – making forts in front of the house, sledding in Forest Park and in the immediate neighborhood. I have wonderful memories of the mammoth 2 1/2 feet-of-snow blizzard of 47! I was sick in bed with what was called “the grippe.” My cousin (who lived “on the other side” of Metropolitan Avenue) came to visit and wound up staying the entire week because the drifts were so high that he couldn’t get home.
The Christmas I remember most was not spent in Middle Village. My parents and my sister’s family spent it in Farmingdale at mother’s brother’s house. My grandfather was terminally ill, and everyone knew this was going to be his last Christmas. The weather was so warm the temperature was in the mid-50’s. There was a great sense of bittersweetness to the day. My grandfather died the following May.
This article originally appeared in the Middle Villager newsletter.