August 14, 2014
Most of us have great Christmas memories and they can be triggered by various things. For me, simply gazing into a colorful, lit bubble light brings me back over forty years.
The very first time my eyes ever saw bubble lights was at my Grandmother’s house. My Grandmother was from Sicily Italy and she and my Grandfather had fourteen children. Yes, fourteen, so you can imagine what a house full she had on Christmas.
This was my mom’s mother and she just lived about a mile away. In fact, she would watch me each day when my parents both went off to work. So, I spent plenty of time around my Grand parent’s home and absorbing all that went with it.
At Christmas time my Grand parents put up a real tree in the formal living room. This was the room that was not to be used or even entered when I was a child. That rule stood eleven and a half months out of the year, but Christmas was different.
The tree was always put in front of the window and decorated with the usual ornaments. At the base was the nativity scene with a mixed batch of miniature plaster and resin figures from different sets. Around the base of the tree ran my uncles HO scale train set, complete with a log car that you could unloaded at the push of a button. Yet, it was that string of colorful bubble lights on the tree that left the greatest impression.
The base of the bubble light was half yellow and half green or blue . The bulb was filled with a red or yellow liquid that of course bubbled once heated. It was this small bit of animation that held me transfixed. I would stand and stare into that bubbling lit tube, with the tree and ornaments serving as a beautiful back drop.
Christmas at Grandma’s always meant family and food and plenty of both. On Christmas morning we opened our gifts, went to Church and then on to Grandma’s house. Even if you were not staying for dinner you had plenty to eat before leaving.
There would be Aunts, Uncles and plenty of cousins visiting as well. Sometimes Mom or Dad would allow you to bring one of your favorite toys from under the tree along as well. We would then compare the gifts that Santa brought us, all the while anxiously waiting to go home to play with them.
Meanwhile, the table was covered with items left over from the Christmas Eve dinner the night before. Traditional Italians have a meatless dinner on Christmas Eve, consisting mainly of fish. Believe it or not, I grew to love that cold plate of fried smelt or cod fish. Even now I take a dish home every year from my Mother’s house on Christmas Eve.
Also, on the table was a dish of luppini, which is a dried bean, soaked in water to be re-hydrated and then eaten as a snack. You pick them up and squeeze them out of their skin into your mouth. They really have somewhat of a bitter taste, but there is something about the texture that makes them habit forming.
There was also a bowl of fresh fruit, always including tangerines, on the table. Various dishes of un-shelled nuts, complete with a nut cracker nearby and figs, Yes, dried figs, still attached to a long stem or rind and they looked and felt like leather. I always joked that Grandma just brought out the same bowl of figs every year because I never saw anyone actually eat one.
If you were also staying for dinner then look out. There was roasted chicken, veal or beef cutlets, greens, roasted potatoes, and of course a huge bowl of pasta, which we just called macaroni. All of that was followed with salad. Yes, Italians always ate the salad last and I still do if dining at home or at my Moms.
All in all it was a great day, one that I never truly appreciated until they were gone. I often think what it would be like to go back and experience that scene just one more time.
So to this day the most dominant lights on my Christmas tree are the bubble lights. In a quiet moment I sometimes still walk up to the tree and gaze at one of the bright bubbling tube. For a few minutes my mind reflects back on a time that had magical qualities and plenty of great memories. For that reason bubble lights will always be on my tree.