Frank has many fond memories of growing up in his old Sicilian neighborhood in Milwaukee’s Third Ward. Everyone was family and they looked out for each other. The older folks spoke Sicilian. Church was the center of that community — serving as altar boys, having nuns as teachers, and particularly the traditional processions and lively festivals that accompanied Holy Day and Saint Feast Day celebrations.
Frank experiences a special connection to that past when we’re in Sicily. He has been anxious to return to the island since our 2015 trip. The revolving door of family –- sons, girlfriends, mom, aunts, cousins — made that trip one of our most memorable and definitely our most laugh-filled! He really wanted to spend a Christmas here. We inquired about the same villa and it was available. The owner had just installed a new fireplace and even agreed to provide a Christmas tree for us!
There was one thing missing. What’s Christmas without some family around, right? No worries. Andy, Nick and Maddie jumped right in. They were excited to just relax, eat some delicious Sicilian food and drink some of that tasty, no-hangover Sicilian wine. The kids arrived a couple days before Christmas and, for the next ten days, we pretty much did just that.
Following in the steps of Frank’s forefathers, we celebrated Midnight Mass at the local church. After Communion, the priest paraded through the aisles with a very old, life-size baby Jesus. The gathered faithful reverently touched it, some kissed it. Afterwards, we processed with the congregation to the town piazza, where the priest gently laid the baby in the manger of the life-size Nativity creche. It’s tradition. It’s what most Sicilians do every Christmas Eve.
The five of us appeared as outsiders in this tiny church where everyone knew each other. Little did they know, we are connected; we are connected in time. We are connected in the present by our joint participation in this age-old tradition. We are connected in the future through our memory of this event. But most importantly, we are connected through our past. We are connected through relatives that were neighbors, friends or even relatives of their relatives. That makes us connected and that makes us family. Buon Natale from Sicilia!