PSA: My Family Goes Hard at Christmas

Back home in the great town of Princeton, New Jersey, my family is known for having an extensive array of Christmas traditions--it’s safe to say that no one goes harder at Christmas than the Cavuto’s. Whether it’s the arrangement of our Byers Doll collection or the reading of ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas, you know you’ll find some holiday spirit at our residence. As the most wonderful time of the year is upon us, I’m going to share what makes the Christmas Season one of my favorites.  

Elf: We kick off every Christmas season by watching Elf on Thanksgiving. I’ve seen the film a million times and it’s still just as funny. Every. Single. Time. Even at other points in the year, Elf remains a staple in our lives, providing random quotes and laughs when needed.


Decorating: This is harder to do now that I’m away at college, but when I was younger there was nothing more exciting than picking out a tree and proceeding to spend hours listening to Christmas music and putting up ornaments. We’d have our “kid tree,” which was in the TV room and covered in a random assortment of our favorite decorations, and then what we’d call “Mom’s tree,” which was in the living room. This tree was the most fun to look at; the warm glow that radiated off the branches complemented by red and gold ornaments, topped with an angel, was surely a sight to see. We’d hang our customized stockings above the fireplace (including two for our dogs, Louis and Phoebe), and set up a multitude of Byers Caroling Dolls throughout different rooms in the house. I truly love being home at Christmas time because there’s a warmth felt that I haven’t found anywhere else.


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Struffoli and Scartelate: Struffoli are essentially tiny balls of fried dough that taste like heaven. Scartelate is made of the same dough but shaped into a pretzel and covered with honey and sprinkles. Both are Italian pastries that we prepare a few weeks before Christmas every year. We spend the day in the kitchen, once again listening to Christmas music, while my mom bakes the dough. My brother, sister, and I are in charge of rolling, shaping, and cutting the dough, while my dad mans the fryer. We can’t help but sneak a few fresh ones while working--although we try and save as many as we can for the festivities. When Christmas Eve finally comes, we dig in, enjoying them until New Years.


Secret Santa: We are a large, Italian family. I have seventeen cousins--solely on my mom’s side. Therefore, Secret Santa is always memorable. We pick names on Thanksgiving, and then gather on a day when the most of us can make it, whether it’s a week before Christmas, or on Christmas Eve. I love this tradition because it brings all of us together--especially as we grow older and begin to follow our own paths in life. We start at the youngest, now 14, and make our way to the oldest, now 34. It is especially fun to now include my cousins son, Teddy--so cute!


The Feast of the Seven Fishes: Another Italian tradition where my mom cooks seven fish dishes for our Christmas Eve meal, starting with Calamari. This is great and all, except for someone like me who doesn’t actually like fish (super not Italian of me, I know). Thankfully, a few others in the family don’t eat fish either, so another pasta dish is cooked for our meal--but we don’t get to enjoy the appetizers :(


Reindeer Food: At some point near the end of dinner, we hear a mysterious knock at the door. Excitedly, we run over and open it to find a bowl of Reindeer Food sitting on the porch (Reindeer Food = a mixture of dry oatmeal and glitter). That means it’s time to put on our snow boots and jackets, and run outside to throw it everywhere. There’s nothing more fun than running around a snowy farm with seventeen other people throwing Reindeer Food. Even the thirty year-old cousins participate. Eventually, the food is thrown at each other instead of in the snow.


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‘Twas the Night Before Christmas: After the shenanigans outside come to an end, we return to the living room and gather around to listen to my dad read ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas. While most of us are old enough now to where this might seem silly, it’s tradition. If we were to think of it that way, all of this would seem silly--but we love it.


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Midnight Mass: After having dessert, we go to Midnight Mass, and then come home and go to bed--after all, Santa won’t come until we’re all asleep!


Christmas Day: We wake up, rush downstairs, have to painfully wait for brunch to be set before we can start opening presents (although we can open our stockings beforehand). We open presents in the same order as for Secret Santa: youngest to oldest, rotating in a circle. We then relax for a while, maybe watch a Christmas movie or two, and gather again for Christmas dinner: lamb.


While our Christmas traditions are widely known and loved, there are those Scrooge’s who try to tell us we’re acting childish by continuing to celebrate them. I personally feel sad for those people, and grateful that I was able to grow up in a family where the holidays were associated with such fun and happiness. I can’t wait to pass these traditions on to my future family.