At nine o’clock on the morning after Thanksgiving, the nonnas scurry to the homes of grandchildren, ringing front doorbells until the children appear. No child is late. The nonnas, with their charges in tow, meet on the corner near the church.
Little children holding hands with nonnas, older children holding hands with one another, they race down the avenue to the local five-and-ten. When they arrive, they see the crowd is being shepherded into one line. But no one complains.
At nine-thirty, the doors to the store open and the nonnas and children begin a climb to the second floor. As they reach the top step, they oh and ah. “It’s more beautiful than it was last year,” a nonna says.
“Look, they have silver bells hanging above the chair,” another says.
Sitting in the chair amid the glory of a winter wonderland is Santa Claus. The nonnas try not to show they are as excited as the grandchildren. But they get caught up in admiring the tinsel, the bright blue glass balls decorating artificial trees, and the huge dye-cut sign glowing with silver glitter that says: “Merry Christmas.”
A nonna says to a granddaughter, “Tell Santa what you want,” knowing she will purchase whatever the child asks for. She remains within earshot, a tear or two of pride and joy running down her cheek, as the girl shares her list.
When the last grandchild climbs off Santa’s lap, the nonnas and the children return to the first floor. It’s time for a snack.
On this special day, the children can have anything they want. The nonnas grant all their wishes. They purchase loose potato chips from a glass-enclosed counter, crisp hot waffles filled with melting ice cream from the snack bar, even a quarter-pound of carnival-colored jujubes. But the nonnas shake their heads and pass up the cookies. They can bake better ones.
The group walks the aisles in the store. The nonnas look at scarves, hats, gloves mentioning the names of sons-in-law who would enjoy such gifts. Their daughters and grandchildren receive handmade gifts– a robe that a nonna “runs up” in what she claims takes 20 minutes but actually takes three days.
In the Christmas department, the children select a few ornaments to take home. Soon the nonnas are paying for bright red glass bells topped with sugary-looking “snow.”
Across from the ornament display is a counter covered with artificial green turf. It is home to a miniature stable for a presepio, or Christmas crib. The stable holds plaster figurines of the Holy Family surrounded by a variety of plaster barnyard animals, several shepherds with crooks, and three kings bearing gifts.
A nonna picks up a plaster lamb. ”This maybe won’t go with the set I got from my mother, but you can never have too many animals to keep the Baby Jesus warm.” That is all it takes for each of the other nonnas to decide they cannot be outdone in making a comfortable home for the Baby Jesus.
There is an immediate run on cows and goats and sheep and even a camel, part of the Three Kings entourage. Each nonna is determined to keep her Holy Family warmest with the breath of animals.
Angeletti –Lemon-Iced Cookies
- 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 tablespoon baking powder
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter at room temperature
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 3 large eggs
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 2 cups confectioners’ sugar
- Grated rind of 1 lemon
- 2 to 3 tablespoons lemon juice
- Colored sprinkles (optional)
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
- Sift togther flour, salt, and baking powder; set aside.
- In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream butter and granulated sugar until fluffy
- Add eggs one at a time; mix well after each addition.
- Mix in vanilla.
- With mixer on, gradually add flour mixture; beat until dough comes together.
- Gently roll bits of dough into 1 to 1-1/2 inch balls and place on lightly buttered or parchment-lined baking sheet.
- Bake until golden, about 15 minutes. To cool cookies, transfer them to wire cooling rack set over a sheet of waxed paper.
- In a medium bowl, stir together confectioners’ sugar, lemon rind, and lemon juice to form a smooth glossy icing.
- When cookies are cool, dip tops in icing and return to wire rack.
- Shower with colored sprinkles if desired. Let cookies remain on wire cooling rack until icing is firm.