My Dad used to say it that way. My Grampa did, too. And my PapaNonni said, “Buon Natale”. In our house we didn’t say it in English when the whole family was around.
For my whole life, those two words have meant the sharing of good food, of laughter, of presents, of long stories told it two languages.
Buon Natale meant the meal of seven fishes, with shrimp and calamari and especially with octopus cooked by my Sicilian Grampa who pronounced it “boopie.”
The magic of the celebration meant gathering with cousins we saw only two or three times a year. It meant catching up with each other’s news, introducing new boyfriends, new fiances, new babies.
Buon Natale. Every year the location of our family party would rotate between the houses of my mother’s siblings. Some things would change, as people moved and families grew, but many many things stayed the same. The boopie, the calamari, the red Santa hats, the bottles of good Scotch under the tree.
Years have passed for me. Decades have passed now.
So many of those we loved have left us. Grampa, the original boopie chef, has been gone for more than thirty years. Our Nana left us more than ten years ago. We’ve lost my Dad, my sweet, funny brother-in-law, and my hilarious and brilliant Uncle.
But you know what?
We gathered again today. We hugged, and kissed and wished each other Buon Natale. There was wine and good Scotch. There was boopie and shrimp and calamari and calzone. We had ricotta pie and wonderful desserts.
Mostly, though, we had a new generation of little cousins who play together and laugh together only once or twice a year. We had laughs and memories and a few quiet tears.
We had each other. We had tradition and repetition and time to look back and remember that the joy of the season is really about celebrating how lucky we’ve been to have known and loved each other.
I don’t know what the future will bring, or how long traditions should hold.
But I know that my daughter will be hosting her brothers and us on Christmas. And I know that she’ll be cooking boopie.
Buon Natale e felice anno nuovo a tutti.