18 February 2010
For most of my life Christmas Eve was the most important day of the year. My entire family would gather in my mother's basement for a feast inspired by our Italian heritage but flavored heavily with our Spanish and Polish roots. The table would buckle under the weight of paella, fried squid, perogis (a Polish dumpling), raviolis, fish empanada and more. When I was a kid and my parents were younger it was quite a party. Sangria would flow during the meal and anisette was sipped with coffee for dessert. The kids went to Midnight Mass and came home and opened one present. One year a couple dressed as Santa and Ms. Claus broke down in front of our house. They were hustled into the basement and fed immediately.
When I got older I was allowed to invite friends to come by after the meal. We stayed up all night and left late to play pool at the local hall that was open on Christmas Eve.
As the years rolled on it became clear that my mother could no longer handle the huge meal and all of the responsibility that came with it. On the last Christmas Eve in my parents' basement my brothers and I helped with the cooking. After that, my brother Danny started hosting it at his house.
It's still a fantastic evening.
But it's not the same.
A few years ago I brought my wife and our first child back home to Baltimore for Christmas. I don't know why I decided to bring along the Wii, but I did. After we left Danny's a few of my nieces and nephews came back to the house in which I grew up and we set up the Wii downstairs. We hastily threw together some sangria and started bowling. My mother, already in one of her flannel nightgowns and exhausted, came down to watch.
Then she blew my mind:
"Can I try it?"
Her first ball was a strike.
My mother held the Wiimote like her mother once held bingo markers – waiting for numbers to be called. Before each roll she'd nervously walk in place a little bit, her slippered feet poking out from under the long night gown.
Then she'd roll.
Three strikes and one humiliating game later, my 74-year-old mother had handily beaten the son who writes about video games and two of her college-aged grandchildren.
And once again, there was a party in the basement on Christmas Eve.
By Victor Paul Alvarez