How We Celebrate

Author: Alli Jean, Author: Danny Abriano, Author: Kerrin Frappier, Author: Mary Grace Donaldson, Author: Michelle Ioannou, Real Life Stories

I’m Catholic, Italian and Irish. Christmas is quite the big deal to both my mom’s family and to my dad’s family – as it has been to me for my whole life. As there’s so much that I could talk about here, I’ll keep it to what we do on my favorite day of the whole year – Christmas Eve.


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On Christmas Eve, my parents, my grandma and I — and whoever else is around — will usually partake in the traditional Italian Feast of the Seven Fishes, but a modified version as I don’t eat much fish. It is customary for Italian families not to eat meat on Christmas Eve — hence all of the fish. Because it isn’t an Italian holiday meal if there isn’t too much food around, we’ll order Sicilian pizza as a nod to my mom’s uncle, who used to make pizza on Christmas Eve when my mom was young.

When I was younger, we’d all head to Midnight Mass where I would sing with the choir. Nowadays (this year included) I’ll lead the music at an earlier Mass that my family will attend, but I’ll still sing with the choir at Midnight. Midnight Mass is truly special – we sing fan favorites including O Come, All Ye Faithful as well as the beloved Halleluiah Chorus from Handel’s Messiah.

I usually get home in the 2 a.m. hour once my parents and grandma have fallen asleep. I’ll make a big mug of hot chocolate, put on my Christmas pajamas – and, of course, turn on 24 hours of A Christmas Story and try to fall asleep. – Mary Grace

To be quite honest, I almost didn’t contribute to this collaboration, but #NAMB is about sharing our stories, and here’s my Christmas one.

My father passed away in 2009, making this my eighth Christmas without him….and I’m not going to lie, it hasn’t gotten much easier. There’s still this huge void I can feel while opening presents on Christmas morning, and honestly, I’m not sure that void will ever go away.

Christmas is a difficult time for many of us who are missing loved ones. They should be with us, sitting with us, opening gifts. My dad should be here making jokes about how much money I cost him this Christmas, and I should be gifting him with more sports memorabilia or ridiculous Star Wars ties and socks.

But that’s not the case. But, it’s still Christmas — a time for love and family — and I’m so fortunate to have a big fat Greek family that I get to spend Christmas Day with. It’s extremely loud and chaotic but I wouldn’t have it any other way. It’s filled with laughs, and food, and wine, and love.

For those of you who will be with loved ones this Christmas, cherish it. We don’t realize how lucky we are. – Michelle

While the rituals and festive pastimes in my family have changed over time, a tradition started about ten years ago is not only my favorite Christmas tradition, but has become one of my favorite days of the entire year: annual wreath-making day.


On the first Saturday of December each year, my mom, younger sister and I go with my mom’s work friends to a small farm on Cape Cod, where we hand-make Christmas wreaths. The farm has a small barn, and every year when I walk in, I feel like the Christmas season has truly begun. Everyone gathers around a huge table covered with boxes and boxes of cut up Christmas pine, white birch, juniper, holly and countless other winter greens.

With Christmas carols playing, and the sense of humor of a large group of nurses abundant, laughter and whimsy fill the air as the wreaths take shape. Then the decorating commences. Many in our group make traditional classic wreaths, while others get creative with bright colors and leopard bows.

Part of the fun is seeing what decorations and ribbon choices are on hand each year as we hot-glue and decorate away. Patty, the woman who runs the class along with her family members, is there to aide us every step of the way, and they always provide delicious casseroles and snacks for us.

Besides my astonishment at how beautiful the wreaths are each year, this tradition is so special because even though getting together around the holidays is more cumbersome each year with so many people to visit, work schedules, and when this first started, either me or my sister having college finals in December, it is one day a year I treasure because it is time spent with my mom and my sister. – Alli

Christmas has always been interesting for me, though that might not be the most apt word to describe it.

My parents broke up when I was five years old, so I used to split the holiday — Christmas Eve with my dad’s side of the family and Christmas with my mom’s side.

There was actually one Christmas morning when I was about seven years old when my father pulled up to my mom’s house and literally made me decide while standing in the middle of the street who to spend the day with. That was fun!

But I digress…

After my grandparents on my father’s side (and aunt and uncle) passed away, we started to combine the holiday — my parents are still very much broken up, but have become good friends.

This year, though, my aunt on my mom’s side (who used to host Christmas every year) decided hosting was too much for her — she has a special-needs son and all of the planning and cooking just got to be too crazy.

So, Christmas Eve this year might not happen. Christmas Day will probably be a tiny gathering at my brother’s house. And the actual Christmas celebration? That will be at a random restaurant in New Jersey on December 26 — so cue up your A Christmas Story comparisons!

Seriously, though, while Christmas isn’t the fun, over the top spectacle it used to be, I’ll still be with the people who matter the most. And that’s the important thing. – Danny

Thanks to the good people at TBS, every Christmas Eve my sister and I watch A Christmas Story. Sometimes we arrive home from my Nana’s house and it is already part way through, but we try our best to stay up until we’ve watched the remaining scenes and then, the beginning portion we missed.


The next day, after a hectic morning of tearing up miles of wrapping paper, my sister and I take a ride to the house my mother’s parents lived in when we were children. The trip is short -just across town–and we always sing along to our favorite carols playing on the radio.

While the house has been sold two times since my grandfather retired and my grandmother passed away almost ten years ago, my sister and I drive by every Christmas morning. Sometimes, it makes me long for the days when my whole family was together and all I wanted was a pair of ruby slippers under the tree. But mostly, seeing the house that holds so many precious holiday memories makes me feel a little bit closer to my grandparents on one of their favorite days of the year. — Kerrin

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