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Marissa DeSimone

Our Christmas Angel

By: Marissa DeSimone
College Now Course - BSS 1

My family has always been rather dedicated to our traditions and customs, of which we have many. We have also been known to sporadically start new ones. So I never really question all of our family's methods or reasoning. I've always assumed somebody just picked October 25th to be the date we could put on the heat. I never wondered why we were the only ones on our block with President's day decorations, or why we are always woken up at 5 o'clock on our birthdays no matter what, to eat cupcakes. I just assumed that somebody decided to do this stuff one day and it was just continued.

Now, most of our strange protocol is purely random. I have no idea why we're forced to sleep in our jackets until the 25th, and no one else really does either. But there is one holiday tradition that we have, which has a very powerful meaning in our family. Every year, when we decorate our Christmas tree, we put the angel on first. It's on the top of the first box we open, and not one ornament goes on until our angel is rested safely in her place atop our tree.

The story goes back to my Grandpa Tony. He grew up in Palermo, Sicily with his brothers Antonino and Vito, his sister Jenny, his father Joseph, and grandmother Rosaria. My grandfather was the youngest of the four. Being so much younger than the others, he ended up left out quite often, and it was his grandmother, Rosaria, who was his companion whenever he was left home. She would play games with him and tell him stories. She told him wonderful fairy tales and adventures that he would later pass on to his children and then me and my brother.

One of the most special bonds my grandfather and Rosaria had was sharing Christmas traditions, especially decorating the house. Every year they would spend weeks making new decorations and ornaments to put up. Everyone would help in decorating the house with the things my grandfather and Rosaria had made. The house would look incredible, with garland and dolls decorating the mantels and shelves, candles illuminating the porcelain nativity, and the walls covered with pictures and snowflakes. The last thing they always put up was the angel that Rosaria's mother had made. Her mother had loved Christmas day and Rosaria put the angel up to watch over them and remind them that her mother was present in the house on this day.

Years went on and every Christmas, Rosaria and my grandfather would make new decorations, hang them up, and finish by hanging Rosaria's mothers angel. When my grandfather was thirteen my grandmother died of pneumonia, and Joseph decided that it was time to move the family to America. He had just enough money saved up for passage. They planned to move into an apartment where Joseph's cousin was landlord and he and the older boys would look for work while Jenny and my grandfather could go to school. America was a distant dream for my grandfather and promised adventure, but it was not easy to leave Palermo. Nothing was certain and nothing could be expected of their new life.

They packed one trunk with clothes, some money, and just a few small things that they wished to keep. My grandfather made sure that Rosaria's angel was packed inside the box. During the journey though, their trunk was lost. There had been a mix up with all the bags of the passengers and they had no way of getting it back. They were possessionless and the precious angel had been lost. Disorder on the boats made this kind of thing common, but my grandfather was upset none the less. He was entering into a completely new experience, and his one source of comfort from Sicily had been lost. The angel had been one thing that he could hold on to, to remind him of Palermo, and his grandmother Rosaria. He felt disconnected without it and worried that he would lose touch with the memory of his grandmother.

After a long few months they were finally settled in the lower east part of Manhattan in a small apartment. The family was getting used to America and Americans. Everyone wanted to explore the new customs, and my great uncle Vito was especially eager to experience all America had to offer. One day mid December Vito came home with one of his friends carrying a hugh evergreen tree in their arms. They brought it into the house and set it up near the window. It was everyone's first Christmas tree. My grandfather, who had lost some of his enthusiasm for the holiday, felt the spirit that he had shared with his grandmother. The family was eager to decorate the tree, but they wanted to do it properly. They went next to some of their neighbor's houses, and looked at their trees and what they did with them.

My grandfather started making decorations and garland for the tree. He had a lot of problems. He wasn't sure how to make the ornaments stay on the tree. He was frustrated, especially when the star he made for the top of the tree fell and broke. He kept thinking of his Rosaria, and he realized he needed her guidance. He thought about Rosaria's angel. It showed Rosaria's mother watching over the family on Christmas day, her favorite part of the year. My grandfather realized that what his grandmother, Rosaria, loved most about the season was decorating. He knew that she would love the tree. With the help of Jenny, he made a new angel, this one to represent Rosaria watching over the family as they decorated the house. My grandfather put the angel on top of the tree to watch over him and his family as they prepared the house for the holidays. To this day we put our angel on top of our tree before anything else, and we know that she will look after us as we decorate the tree and share the holidays together.