Thanksgiving is behind us, now it’s time to start making those family memories centered around Christmas! Do you ever wonder what your kids will recall when they look back, 10, 20, 30 years from now and reminisce about their childhood Christmases? I can’t begin to tell you the answer to that, but here is a little about what sticks in my mind, when I think back to this most festive of seasons…
The most vivid Christmas memory I have does not involve the yearly appearance of Santa Claus,the trees, the decorations or the presents. It is of midnight mass. Every year at Christmas, Catholic churches have a service at midnight (that is, the moment Christmas Eve becomes Christmas, not the following night).
In our family, this mass was a big deal and being deemed old enough to attend a rite of passage. Being allowed to go with the aunts and uncles to Midnight Mass meant a certain degree of acceptance into adulthood. Older cousins lorded over younger that they were in the clique. In my own case, I remember how furious I was that the “next in line,” my cousin John, got to go for the first time the same year I did even though I was a year older. I was 13 at the time, John 12.
Like Thanksgiving dinner, Midnight Mass was a reason to dress to the nines. Uncles wore tuxedoes and three-piece suits, aunts wore formal dresses. Nana and Granddad led the procession in the short walk to our church, Precious Blood, and the Connelly clan took up several pews. The major highlight of midnight mass in my hometown of Monmouth Beach was that they would play several pieces from The Messiah as the music for the service. Thanks to our numbers, Connelly voices were the most prominent ones in the church.
Several of my aunts and uncles had some formal voice training, and performed on stage with various troupes. This included college, small locals and, in the case of my uncle Patrick, professionally in New York City. We had the whole gamut covered, from basso profundo all the way up to mezzo soprano. The various voices also knew their various parts and we harmonized like a real choir. I did my poor best to keep up, but am not in the class of my uncles as a singer.
After midnight mass, we would go back to my grandparents’ house at 34 River Ave. and have Sunday breakfast. Yes, breakfast at 1:00 in the morning. Buttered hard rolls and eggs were the norm, like most Sundays, but I recall that for meat we generally had pork chops instead of bacon or Taylor ham. To this day pork chops and eggs feels like a special meal to me.
The Santa appearances, the trees, the decorations? That all happened too. Next time around I’ll tell you about those traditions as well.