It seems like the older I get, the more I wish we could turn back the clock when it comes to Christmas time.
Christmases for the Sell Family were the main event of the year, even more than going to the Cabin at the lake north of Girard or taking our annual family trip, be it to New Mexico, Oklahoma, Texas, Missouri or wherever.
It was a gathering of the entire family, first on Christmas Eve and then on Christmas Day.
On the 24th, everybody converged on Nanny Sell and Grandpa Paul’s big house on Summit Street in Girard. It was normally our family of four, my aunt and uncle, the three cousins, and the four grandparents. And of course, like every family, we had our crazy uncles Francis Xavier and Ernie.
There were five kids — my sister and me, plus the Hudson trio — and we each had our particular spot for our presents. Being a competitive little cuss, I would fume when the presents would be brought in and some of the piles seemed to be larger than mine. But in the end, of course, it all evened out. Given how much trouble I caused as a youngster, I should have been happy to receive any presents at all.
The five of us always had to have our picture taken because my Dad and Aunt Jo made it a point every year. There were years we would line up on the stair steps — youngest at the bottom to oldest at the top — but later on it was always a picture in front of the fireplace, again with cousin Rick, then sister Susie, cousin Cindy, me and cousin Mark. If I remember right, we were each separated by one year, with Rick older than Susie by a year, and so on down to Mark.
Music was such an important part of our family given how Grandpa Paul and Dad played the piano and organ, while Aunt Jo was second-to-none as a singer. I wasn’t into it all that much because I didn’t play an instrument and couldn’t carry a tune, but it was amazing the music that filled the house. Dad and Grandpa Paul would be seated at the piano and belt out the tunes.
Once the presents were opened, we had a big meal. After that, we would go to Midnight Mass before heading back to the big house.
Finally, I would sleep in the attic of the old house on the big brass bed, with the cold wind whistling through the cracks in the windows. I would pile on the blankets and have the best night of sleep of the year.
The following morning, we took the seven-mile trip north to Nanny Lena and PaPa’s farm. While you could fit their house in the downstairs of the Girard house, the smell of coffee and Italian food filled the air, not to mention a lot of loud talk. They were Italians from the old country and the only way to be heard was to talk above the other person. There were times the full roar could be heard clear outside. Uncles Juliano, Rico and Albino were three of my favorite guys of all time.
We had our traditional Christmas Day meal — ravioli, hot rolls, some ham and turkey. Nobody made homemade ravioli like Nanny Lena, though my Mom’s was pretty darn good. Aunt Betta was right there with them and we knew we were going to eat well.
That Christmas tradition carried on until the late 1980s and then, sadly, the grandparents started to pass away. It was PaPa first, Grandpa Paul, Nanny Sell and finally Nanny Lena, who actually passed away less than half a year before my mother, who we lost far too soon in 1995.
Once the longtime traditions passed, cousin Rick kept it going as we would spend the day in Pittsburg. Of course it was great to be with family — though by this time my sister lived in Tennessee and their family spent time there many of the years — but the days of the big family Christmases were over.
When I lost Dad in 2014, my sister and her family started a new tradition as I now spend the holiday in Lawrence with them. It’s such a wonderful group and I’m glad they’ve taken me in. We spend a lot of time recalling those Christmases of the 1960s and 70s, a time that now seems almost foreign.
I don’t care what anybody says, Christmas is not what it used to be. It’s so commercial now and I don’t see kids going around to houses and singing Christmas carols like we did in the 1960s. We are so engrossed in social media that it has consumed our lives. It also doesn’t help that the world has become a far worse place as hatred now pollutes the air. We don’t live in happy times and there is such a cultural divide in our own country.
Hopefully, at least for a couple of days, all the senseless differences will be put on hold so we can all have a Merry Christmas.