L’Epifania January 6th Treasure Chest Thursday

January 6, 2011 at 03:46 | Posted in Advent Calendar, Amore di Italia, Carnival of Genealogy, Fun Reminders of Italy, Spiritual Walk, Treasure Chest Thursday | Leave a comment
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Happy L’Epifania!

I brought these treasures home from Italy and Germany – I hate to even take them down, preferring to leave them to grace my kitchen year round. No – they are NOT kitchen witches, although often mistakenly called so. These are replicas of La Befana also called Nona Befana.


She was according to legend an old woman who was constantly cleaning her home, something typically Italian I might add! When the three Magi came by searching the Christ Child she was too busy. Then her heart spoke to her and she began to search too.


Now she roams the earth each January 6th searching as did the Magi for Him! Let her help keep Christmas alive a bit longer for all of us each season!


Christmas Memories

December 22, 2010 at 18:27 | Posted in Amore di Italia, family history, memories | Leave a comment
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Christmas is always my personal favorite – and fortunately I married a man who also loves the holidays. Growing up in Italy Valentino approached the Holiday Season a bit differently than most Americans. The emphasis was never on extravagant gifts but rather on family and sharing love, hospitality, and spiritual values with those around him. He doesn’t remember a tree being the central theme but rather the presepe – nativity – was the center of the family holiday. Later there would also be a tree that family would pose near. But it was the large nativity display that he most eagerly awaited setting up every year. Coins would be saved to buy a figure or two whenever they could afford. These were the old composition figures, many wax-coated to make the colors shine. The display would consist of all of Bethlehem as they thought of it. There would be many shepherds and their sheep scattered all over the mountain on the way to the crèche.

When Valentino and I first married, he was reminiscing about his childhood presepe and my parents were soon interested. We lived with them in Connecticut the first few years. Dad asked if Valentino would build a display for everyone to enjoy. We shopped until we found the perfect set – naturally it was from Italy, a Fontanini! Made of a safe polymer in old fashioned wood tones, it was the perfect choice for an outdoor display. Valentino built a small display right near the front entrance and covered it over with pine boughs and set small twinkly clear lights like stars all throughout them. The ground cover was sand with white flour roads to move the Three Wise Men along their journey day by day closer and closer to the crèche. Scattered about were small wood huts and shepherds with sheep. What a sweet memory – but sadly Florida hurricanes years later would ruin our few photos!

When we made the move to Florida we knew it would be even nicer to build this tradition for our children. The temperate weather here and a big covered entrance meant we could enlarge the display year by year. The boys anxiously awaited their trip to our favorite Christmas store to each choose a new figure to add to the display. It became a family affair to set up the display – usually taking a long weekend to get everything in place. Valentino would take the time to share the wonderful bible stories of Jesus’ birth in simple enough terms for the boys to understand. Soon many of the neighborhood children would want to listen too. Year by year the display grew larger and more elaborate as more shepherds and then angels and townspeople were added. Then we began to find that some smaller children were dropping by when we weren’t home to play with the figures. The Fontanini figures are unbreakable but the money we had invested in them had grown considerably. Fontanini had started a collector’s club and offered special limited edition figures that we had begun to enjoy. Sadly it became obvious we would no longer be able to make the display an outside one. About that time we moved to a newer home and gained a huge family room with plenty of space to set up the display. I discovered a group of collectors online and our involvement with Fontanini and all things Italian nativity related grew into an almost obsessive compulsion! Then we were able to visit the actual Italian factory on a trip to Italy! What a joy! The Fontanini folks are some of the warmest and most enjoyable people. They treated us to a tour of the facilities and gifted us with a few special figures that were never sold in America! Now our display is still huge but inside so we can enjoy it all hours!




May You all have a very Blessed Christmas Season and Happy New Year!

Apologies to My Blog Friends – Treasure Chest Thursday

January 7, 2010 at 04:15 | Posted in Bits and Pieces, Carnival of Genealogy, Spiritual Walk, Treasure Chest Thursday | 2 Comments
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What does this have to do with a Treasure Chest? My most treasured moments have to do with my marriage and family. As I am sure many of you have noticed by now, new posts stopped in December. Please accept my apologies for that but Valentino was hospitalized as an emergency and our holidays took a back seat to his health! 2009 has not been the happiest of years for so many of us – we have argued religion, racism, politics, and so much more. I have preferred to not argue most of that here on this famiy oriented blog but rather to concentrate on the happier thoughts of family.

For those of you who have strong faith or spiritual viewpoints, I feel we  as a family were blessed to not face some of the more serious issues that could have been possible during this latest hospitalization. I am grateful for the caring wonderful staff at Wuesthoff Hospital where I also work. Although I tried to keep up with the holidays at home for family’s sake, it was my work family who surrounded us in love and friendship. I am blessed to not only have a job in these difficult times but to have one with a great team of people at my side!

I will be back to a much more regular blogging schedule now that life is settling back to our usual routine! God bless all – I pray for a blessed and joyous New Year for all of you!

UPDATE: Thanks for the wonderful emails and comments – I appreciate all of you!

Advent Calendar – Other Traditions

December 11, 2009 at 09:08 | Posted in Advent Calendar, Carnival of Genealogy, Italy, Spiritual Walk | Leave a comment
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Nativity

 This posting is supposed to be about other traditions such as those brought from overseas by ancestors. In our family’s instance, the tradition was brought to us by Valentino. He came from Italy where his family did not have Christmas trees until he was a teenager. Rather they used like most Italians a presepe display. Presepi are nativity sets but so much more than those we are used to here in the United States. Their displays are huge panoramas of Bethlehem! Interestingly these are often figures dressed in the garb native to the area where the owners live. For example, in Northern Italy it is not uncommon to see a more Bavarian look to figures. Napoli, where many famous and skilled artisans live and work often make the nativity figures to include famous persons. This year there are many versions of our President Obama being sold! But that is not the style Valentino grew up with!

His displays were something he and his brother would save their coins for all year long. During the Christmas season they would buy new figures to add to their growing display. He even remembers figures of Roman soldiers with swords holding a baby aloft! The first few years we set up our display, it was modest to his standards but my family loved it! By 1981 we had moved to Florida and purchased our first home. It was exciting to begin to build on our Christmas display. Valentino would set up a big sheet of plywood outside on our front porch area and he made a Bethlehem scene for our presepe. He covered the wood in sand and made ‘roads’ out of flour. He even had mountains he shaped out of chicken wire bases covered with brown burlap and stiffened with resin. We chose Fontanini figures for our nativity because of their classical Italian look and the fact they were virtually unbreakable. That was an important feature for our children’s sake! We began to fashion our own buildings too. Every evening we would take our own children outside and talk abo9ut the display with them, allowing them to touch and move figures. Soon we found neighbors and their children would come to look at our display too. Valentino would then each evening tell another part of the nativity story and share its meaning with the children. He would every day move the 3 kings closer to the stable where there was Mary and Joseph and animals – but no Babe. He would not be there be there until December 24th! That, too, is an Italian tradition. Valentino never caught his mother but she would somehow mysteriously manage to have the Babe appear in the manger each Christmas Eve without anyone seeing her!

Our display began to attract quite a bit of interest from friends and others over the years so we also made smaller version displays for our church. This too was something Valentino had experience with. His brother and several friends made a permanent display in Itri, Italy at the Sanctuario Madonna della Civita! That display is still there!

Once we moved to our current home, our display had grown too large and too valuable to leave outside. We began to make much more elaborate displays as finances allowed and we added more figures. We were most fortunate to travel to Bagna di Lucca to the Fontanini factory and we met several of the Fontanini family members. That wetted our appetites to grow our display! It became such a labor of love that we delight in sharing with neighbors, friends, coworkers each holiday season! We encouraged the tradition with our sons and each was gifted with their favorite style of Fontanini nativity sets also for when they are ready to begin their own family traditions!




Advent Calendar Grab Bag December 9th

December 9, 2009 at 10:13 | Posted in Advent Calendar, Carnival of Genealogy, memories, Spiritual Walk | 3 Comments
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We had one Christmas that for our family will always be a special one for our family. It was 1984 and I was ill that year. I was thrilled when we found I was expecting our third child. We wanted a big family. I loved being pregnant and loved having children. I knew from the time I was a young child that I wanted to be a wife and a mother. Every decision in my life revolved around being a mother. But then only a month pregnant, we were handed devastating news. I was diagnosed with cervical cancer. I fit none of the criteria for someone at risk but there it was – cancer. The doctors immediately wanted me to start medical treatment which would include an abortion. The emotions rollercoaster I was facing was amplified of course by hormones. One thing I was sure of though was that I could not have an abortion. For me this was not an option. I knew that God would not honor a covenant of life with me if I did not honor one with Him. I offer no political discourse or condemnation of others who choose differently, only that this was true for me. The doctors here in Florida were not happy with my decision.

That summer we drove back to my hometown in Connecticut and I visited the ob-gyn group who has delivered our first son and talked. As they listened, they offered support and love. If I were still living there, they would have had no problem with seeing me through this decision. They actually agreed with my decision. They felt much of the treatment could wait until after delivery. They did want me to have a procedure done while pregnant to remove as much of the cancer as possible but it did carry a risk of miscarriage so it was important to be at a place where I could stay and maintain bed rest, not travel. We returned to Florida and I began the hunt for a doctor. A girlfriend found one in Jacksonville where she lived who would accept me for treatment. We met and my husband and I knew he was a great fit for us. He felt the risk was great but he was willing to do everything he could medically to help me! And so I moved myself to Jacksonville with my girlfriend’s family. The plan was for my mother and my husband to care of my two young sons back at home. The surgery went better than expected, buying me time to not need further chemo treatment during pregnancy. There were many special incidents while I was in the hospital that proved to me that God was in control but those will be saved for another post another day. This post is about Christmas.

I returned home after thirty days and spent the next few months in prayer and on bed rest. I trusted the Lord that no matter what was to happen; it was all part of His Plan. The evening of December 23rd, I suddenly began to experience back pains that I was sure were labor even though Daniel was not quite due for another couple weeks. By the time I arrived at the hospital, I knew he was not waiting! We brought along a cassette player and had soft hymns of praise playing softly in the birthing room. A short one hour and twelve minutes later Daniel arrived! We were blessed with our third son, healthy and perfect in spite of all I had been through. The next morning was December 24th, Christmas Eve. When we left the hospital, Daniel was slipped inside a huge Christmas stocking, a gift from the hospital Pink Ladies!

I would less than 2 years later have another son even though doctors told me it would not be possible to get pregnant again. And I would again face another bout of cancer within that year after Vinny being born more serious than this occurrence. I would also experience God’s blessings through my cancer and I would be healed in spite of doctors’ predictions of impending death. But it was this Christmas that we realized God’s gift to us as our son was born. He was indeed the most precious gift my husband and I could ever wish for — and that was a very special Christmas indeed!

Advent Calendar Christmas Memories – Santa Claus

December 5, 2009 at 23:33 | Posted in Carnival of Genealogy | 1 Comment
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As a very small child I was a very devoted believer of Santa Claus. We would always be taken to one of the stores or some party to have our photos taken with Santa Claus. For some reason only one of me survived all these years. Every year I bring this out on display as a reminder of my childhood and the wonderful memories. I was positive that Santa knew who was naughty and nice – I sure tried to be nice, although I know I tested my parents!

I was about 2 the year my dad was Post Commander for the local Naval Vets Club. They had wonderful Christmas parties for the families. That year I managed to be a whiney sick child, crying and rubbing my eyes with sweet red mittens my mother knit for me. By the time we were home it was obvious I had a bad cold getting worse fast along with conjunctivitis. The doctor was called (remember when doctors still made house calls?). A previous Furry Friends Friday post found HERE tells the story of how badly I wanted Smokey the Bear Teddy Bear. My dad went to the Christmas presents hidden in the garage attic and gave him to me as an early gift. That was the only gift I paid attention to that year. A new family tradition was started – the giving of a special gift from Mom and Dad each Christmas Eve and the rest from Santa on Christmas morning! Smokey still occupies a place of honor each Christmas at my home!

My husband heard stories of Babo Natale while growing up in Italy but it was La Befana who brought their small gifts on Three Kings Day each year. Christmas Eve was Midnight Mass and Christmas Day they celebrated with a special feast for the entire extended family. La Befana was the old woman on her broom searching for the Christ Child.

As we raised our sons, we would tell them all the usual Christmas tales such as Rudolph, Jack Frost, The Snowman, etc. but we were careful to be sure they understood this was all part of the fun of Christmas magic and only tales. We wanted them to understand the True Christmas Miracle was the Christ Child. So we would share stories of Saint Nicklaus visiting children long ago to share that same story of the birth of Christ with small gifts for them.

Advent Calendar Christmas Memories Italian Holiday Foods

December 5, 2009 at 06:02 | Posted in Carnival of Genealogy | Leave a comment
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Growing up in Italy, Valentino remembers the wonderful Christmases with his family. They kept the tradition of the 7 Fishes for Christmas dinner. They would all go to Midnight Mass together on Christmas Eve at the small church near his home. Only a few doors from their house, the family would all walk together. Christmas Day all the extended family would gather for a huge feast. Mama Concetta had spent hours cooking for everyone. Although the family was quite poor in Post WWII Italy in the early 1950s, he remembers the food at Christmas always seeming to fill the table to overflowing!

There would be the traditional fried smelts, small fish dipped in flour and fried. Then vinegar and garlic would be sautéed for a moment and poured warm over the smelts. Bacala (dried cod) was served along with big platters of steamed mussels. There would be fresh anchovies with basil and lemon, calamari in oil and fried, perhaps a white clam sauce over pasta. Naturally there would be huge bowls of Seafood Fra Diavolo.

We still try to keep this tradition for our family. Many times over the years we were not always able to afford all the fish varieties but we would spend time in the kitchen making the seven dishes with what we had. We live in Florida so our sons would go fishing and shrimping with their dad. They would also catch crabs so we would manage to save a nice assortment for the feast! When our finances began to improve we added stuffed lobster tails to our menu too!

Advent Calendar Christmas Memories Outdoor Decorations

December 5, 2009 at 00:16 | Posted in Carnival of Genealogy | 1 Comment
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As a child I remember always going on wonderful drives with the whole family piled in the car to see the Christmas lights. Living in Connecticut, we usually had snow and it was always so beautiful to the multi=colored lights reflected on the snow! One of our homes shared a steep downhill driveway with the next door neighbor (my father’s business partner). They strung a great long set of Santa with his sleigh and reindeer across the driveway between the two houses. It was made of a vinyl or plastic that lit up. We loved that decoration! Unfortunately the older plastics did not last as long. The cold and the changes in temperature took their toll eventually.

When Valentino and I moved to Florida we wanted to keep that type of Christmas spirit alive. We covered our house in lights ala Clark Griswald in Christmas Vacation! Valentino grew up in Italy so the presepi was always important to him. He built a beautiful 8 foot display on our front porch for all the neighbors to come and see complete with a replica of Bethlehem. Each evening he would entertain the younger children with the Christmas story, moving the figures about the display – showing them how the kings traveled to Bethlehem to see The Babe! The figures were Fontanini and non-breakable so he would let the children touch! After all Christmas is for children! Within a couple years all the neighbors began a friendly competition with us putting out more and more elaborate displays of lights! Then about 15 years ago we moved to our current home. We began again to decorate the outside – both front and backyards! We lost our huge oak tree this year to lightning but in years past we strung lights all through the tree – I say we but it was my sons who would climb into the top branches to hang the lights!

Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories – Christmas Cards

December 4, 2009 at 23:44 | Posted in Carnival of Genealogy | Leave a comment
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Musical Card from Italy

Musical Card from Italy

 Every year we would write out Christmas Cards. My mother would hang them on windows or doors to show them off. A few times she also used a small mailbox to hold them but then they would be tucked inside so that wasn’t as much fun. Often she would stand them opened on cabinets to be seen too. She always was organized with lists that she had checked off who sent the year before or not. After all she was writing out a couple hundred to family, friends, neighbors, and dad’s clients and business associates too! When dad retired, the list shortened as it did as postage began the creep upwards in price.

I remember getting wonderful cards from my grandmother every year. She loved to write letters and send cards every chance she got so at Christmas she would send us each our own special cards. The tradition carried on as my children were born too. Over the years although I tried to save them, most were destroyed in floods from a hurricane!

Now each year I sit and write out my own cards, usually Thanksgiving weekend. Like my mother, I prefer to have them in the mail by the first of December – I figure they’re fun to enjoy all month that way! As I receive our cards, I have tape ready and hang them on a door for everyone to see and read and enjoy. They become part of our decorations!

My favorites are from friends that I haven’t seen in years but still gab with on the phone or write to semi-often. We have been friends since childhood and it is wonderful to reminisce together!

The two cards here are from a nephew and his family in Italy. I have saved them because he and the family are so precious to us! The yellow card is a fantastic one that plays a Christmas Carol when it is opened! The other is an elegant postcard with such a gorgeous picture.  

Postcard from Italy

Monday Madness – La Befana

November 23, 2009 at 15:18 | Posted in Carnival of Genealogy, Fun Reminders of Italy, Italy, Madness Monday, memories, Spiritual Walk | 4 Comments
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It may seem a bit early to many but for me it is typical. It is the week of Thanksgiving – and while I am thinking of all the blessings in my life in anticipation of Thursday, I am also thinking about Christmas. Like most Christians, I realize I am blessed most because of God’s gift of His Son – the Babe who was born Christmas morn!

So now you ask what this possibly has to do with Monday Madness or La Befana. Well, to be honest, I am feeling a lot like La Befana this year, more than ever as a matter of fact! La Befana is the Italian version of Santa Claus – although children also know Babo Natale. The Italian children all anxiously await the visit of La Befana. La Befana was an older woman who spent her life cleaning and cooking with her broom not far away from her grasp. Finally came the evening that 3 Wise Men stopped at her door. Greeting them with her broom in hand, she refused to go with them on their search for the Babe. After all she had cleaning and sweeping to do! Suddenly a few moments after they left, she realized what she had been asked. They were searching for the Baby Jesus! How could sweeping possibly be more important than that?! She ran after them, fast as she was able. Suddenly her broom took her aloft and she flew over rooftops searching to no avail. So now year after year she flies out again in search leaving small gifts in children’s stockings in hopes she finds the Babe!

Monday Madness? Yes indeed. See, it is holiday time and I am in full meltdown mode already. I am the world’s best list maker. I think I’ve mentioned before how writing lists helps me to calm through organization. Seeing it in writing means I can manage in smaller bites, crossing off as I go along. So here I am. List Time. The Thanksgiving menu has been rewritten at least three times and I have no idea why. It never varies from year to year. I suspect that is the problem. I really REALLY want to add something new. This year we decided to eliminate one item. I KNOW that will be a mistake that we will hear about for years to come – 2009 was the Thanksgiving WITHOUT lasagna. There ARE two turkeys and a ham though! Course there’s also half the friend’s list to feed! Why should I feel so frazzled, already worrying about decorating for Christmas? It is family tradition here in the Di Crocco household: the Saturday after Thanksgiving is DECORATE DAY! Out come boxes and boxes of decorations. Everything is unwrapped from the tissue paper and Bubblewrap™, lovingly placed out to think about Christmases past and people associated with each decoration. So many were from my grandmother and mother or from special friends. Every year meant a new ornament for each child, dated and signed with their name.

But back to Monday Madness. This year I am thinking more in terms of how blessed we are as a family. We have had our share of tragedies and sorrows along with the joy. We have family members out of work and struggling. Bills go up while paychecks remain static. Yet, I do have a job. It is one that gives me pride. It’s not one that pays enough to cover what I want covered but I am so much more blessed than others. In the midst of all the holiday frenzy and complaining about how much I have to do without enough time or money, I suddenly am forced to stop. Have I become lost like La Befana? Has sweeping the cobwebs become more important than remembering what the upcoming season is really about and what is really important? This year I want Monday Madness to settle to Calm, Peace, and Tranquility. Not just for me but for everyone. If I must rush from place to place, task to task. Let it be to share the Gift I have been blessed with. Not just to witness of my personal spiritual walk by testifying verbally. Rather, let me share my faith and my values by my deeds, my actions, my sense of peace, by love. Let me show love instead of, in spite of, and in the very face of hatred. Let me now unlike La Befana be willing and able to drop my broom.

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