Bear N Mom - Italian Christmas Eve Story - Candles Are Lit
This is a Christmas Story based on the Italian traditions for Christmas Eve and Christmas Eve Dinner. The story evolved out of my first poem, "Candles Are Lit," that was written to be lyrics for a Christmas Carole. While this is a basic plot I can see and hear the conversations that I would put into the screenplay if I were a producer or director.
The figure of a man sat on the park bench slumped over against the chill of the first evening winds that rolled through the community park. Here was a forgotten person. He thought out loud, “How did this happen? Where did I go wrong?” Just last year at this time he was employed and himself enjoying the peace on earth good will to man atmosphere that falls over the earth on Christmas Eve. Shortly after the holiday he had been laid off and since his former employer had not paid into unemployment, he was at once on his own with nowhere to go. The concrete business is all but gone in the winter and by summer he had been on the streets for almost 3 months. He had learned how to stay warm by milling around the mall at night.
As he sat there a bit of fluff edged towards him and sat looking up into his face from between his feet. His heart melted looking at this kitten and listening to faint mews who couldn’t be more than a few weeks old. In the bitter night she would freeze. Reaching down he scooped up this poor creature and held it close to his chest.
“You need a good meal and a place to stay out of the cold.” He whispered. “I know just the place. We will find our feast and camp out behind the mall out of the winds. I’ll find us some paper and cardboard to keep the chill off us.”
Getting up he cuddled the small kitten inside his overcoat next to his chest and started off in the direction of the mall.
Carla leaned against the pantry door watching her mother prepare the traditional Italian Christmas Eve dinner while she explained the meaning behind the 13 dishes on the table symbolizing the last supper with 12 Disciples and Jesus and why they followed the tradition of only eating fish and no meat on Christmas Eve in Italian households. Danny sat enthralled in her stories. Carla was sure that even though he listened attentively that his rapture was probably for the goodies that he knew were coming later.
This would be a different Christmas celebration for Danny and her. Her husband was away on a business trip and not expected back in time for the traditional family gathering. It made her sad to think that their little family was going to be apart on this most important holiday for her family. Dan’s parents had been invited but they were spending the evening at their daughter’s home this year which again broke the tradition for Carla.
Carla’s thoughts drifted back to another era and an old fashioned kitchen when her Nana had told her the same stories and showed her how to cook the smelts, anchovy pasta and baccala. Carla remembered the broken English as her Nana taught her about 13 dishes on the table to symbolize the last supper. Her mother went on to explain that on Christmas Eve “mungia” was a big part of their tradition. No matter who or what came to your door on Christmas Eve you brought them in and fed them because the Italians believe that Christ once again walks the earth on Christmas Eve testing us to see if he will be welcomed into your house. Even if a dog were to come to the door of your house you were to welcome it and feed it. Carla smiled because this was a big contradiction for her mother. Her mother was afraid of dogs and would never permit one in her house.
Carla opening the pantry door broke into the story and told Danny it was time for him to go up and get his bath before dinner. That his cousins would be arriving soon and he needed to be ready for the evening meal.
As Carla sat talking with her mother, she heard the front door open and the voices of her niece and nephew. Going into the hallway, she welcomed her brother and his wife and their two children. Josie and Peter were older than Danny and had other interests but their friends would probably come and join in the family fun later in the evening.
Josie took the presents that they had brought into the living room and put them under the Christmas tree in the appointed spot. The Nativity Scene was laid out under the tree. The only thing missing was the Christ child because it was their tradition to put the little statue into the Nativity after supper closer to Midnight Mass.
The tree was decorated in beautiful white and red twinkling lights and held an assortment of butter cookies that had been baked and iced to hang by red ribbons on the tree in anticipation of guests who would cut them off to eat on Christmas Eve.
Maria, Carla’s sister-in-law, went straight to the kitchen to help with the dinner preparations. As usual, Nunna gave her the plates to set the table and sent her on her way into the dining room.
Joe went into the living room to sit with Pap and to discuss the upcoming orders they had to fill for the coming season. Carla’s dad was a cement contractor and Joe was his foreman now that Pap was getting older. Joe ran the crew but Pap was still the boss.
Danny came back into the kitchen just as his Nunna was passing dishes to Aunt Maria to be put onto the dining room table. He heard a sound coming from the small back porch and went to the window to look.
There on the window sill was a tiny kitten with a man on the steps trying to get it. Danny opened the door and the kitten scooted past him into the warm and inviting kitchen. Nunna was taken aback because even though she had just told Danny about the Italian beliefs she was not in the habit of inviting animals into her kitchen to say the least. And here was a man obviously a street person at her door trying to catch it.
Danny was so excited that he turned to Nunna and said, “Nunna, we have guests for Christmas Eve.”
Nunna could hardly rebuke the child since she had so recently given him the impression of an open-door policy. Here was her test. Did she give the kitten back to the man and close the door or should she take a chance and invite him in.
Maria and I walked into the kitchen from different directions just as I heard Nunna invite the stranger into the kitchen asking him his name.
The man said his name was Dave and mumbled his apologies for the intrusion. Nunna could be a good actress and shushed him. Nunna turned and told Maria to set another place at the table because they would be having Dave to join them for dinner. You could see that Maria was dumbfounded and clearly thought Nunna had lost her marbles but she did as she was told. She sent Danny to show Dave where he could wash up for dinner.
The kitten was under the table peeking a look at the fish that was being passed over it’s little head. Nunna snatched up a smelt from the plate and broke it into a small dish for the kitten under her table. There was no hay under her table but the creature stayed there to eat it’s feast.
At the dinner table Dave was surrounded on one side by Pap and on the other by Joe. Whether this was predestined or not their conversation continued around the business needs for the coming year. It seemed that they needed additional help with an upcoming job and that these two artisans worked with cement and stone.
Eventually the conversation turned to what Dave did and Dave explained that he was out of work and that he really needed a job. Although he didn’t normally work with stone he had worked with concrete and concrete blocks. Not being an impulsive man, Pap sat giving Dave the once over before he asked Joe, “Do you think we could use this young man on the Tracey job?” Joe not knowing if his father was serious or not hedged around the subject saying that they could talk after dinner.
As the meal wound on the little ball of fluff made it’s way from the kitchen and wound it’s way in and out of between the feet of the people at the table. It’s little belly was full and it headed for the living room and the bright Christmas tree. It wound it’s way underneath and rolled into a ball right next to the empty manger.
After dinner everyone moved off into the living room to sip coffee, vino and sodas. The children milled around the cookies and other goodies that were everywhere just waiting to be eaten.
Joe and Pap had their discussion between the dinner table and the living room and decided to hire Dave who was so grateful that he all but cried. You could see the emotion in his face. He looked around the living room and asked Danny to help him look for the kitten that had brought him all his good fortune. Between them they could not find it anywhere. Dave hoped that it hadn’t gotten out of the house again when this family’s friends and neighbors came to call. These people were so giving and repeatedly he heard them say “mungia” to all that came to their door. They had obviously forgotten that little bit of fluff that Nunna had fed smelts because it couldn’t be found anywhere.
Nunna declared it was time to put the Christ Child in the manger, which was her final tradition for this, most holy of her holidays. When she went to get it, it was missing. Lo and behold they found it. Someone had already put it into the manger. But as Danny leaned over to adjust one of the sheep, he could have sworn he heard a soft purr coming from the manger.