December 30, 2007  NEWSLETTER

A CHRISTMAS STORY – just a few days late!

I’m about to tell you a true story that happened to me when I was about six years old. It’s a story about a disappointment and a surprise that I experienced on Christmas Eve that year. It changed my life and still has me wondering to this day.

Like every other kid in the city of Chicago, I was all excited about Christmas. That day, Christmas Eve, was the biggest day in my young life – even bigger than my birthday. I loved the decorations and all the visiting we did and the gifts were just frosting on the cake – and I liked frosting (still do).

On Christmas Eve. our family would first go to my Italian grandma’s house for a great big dinner with all kinds of different food. After we ate and visited for a while, we would go back home where my German grandparents were waiting. There we would see our Christmas tree with its village and electric train for the first time each year. Our house never had any decorations set up ahead of time because of the Advent season. Our Christmas celebration didn’t begin until Christmas Eve.

So on the way to Italian grandma’s house that night I was excited about seeing her Christmas tree and all the decorations. I was planning to avoid, or at least hurry past, Aunt Mary who always showed her love for us kids by pinching our cheeks and kissing us. I guess I was beginning to learn that love could hurt at times!

No luck! I was caught and shown that I was loved big time! Then I hurried into the living room to see the Christmas tree and all the decorations. Big disappointment – there was no tree – just a nativity scene. Although it was beautiful and quite large, there was still no tree. Big Disappointment. Grandma noticed. She asked me, “Michael, why are you so sad? It’s Natale. It’s the night Jesus was born.”

Then in her broken English she explained the whole story of Jesus’ birth and the great Christmas gift God gave us when He sent His son to teach us how to live and love. She let me hold each piece of the nativity set while she told me the story of that person and his or her roll in the nativity of Jesus. Even the animals had jobs to do in grandma’s story. She ended by telling me that in Italy her family didn’t have Christmas trees, they only had the nativity scene that was begun by Saint Francis – who was also born in Italy.

I carried the figure of the baby Jesus around all evening until it was time to leave for home. When we arrived home later that night I got the biggest surprise of my, so far short, life. In our living room not only were my other grandparents waiting with a great big Christmas tree and all kinds of gifts – but under that tree, sleeping on the floor, waiting for me and my sisters, was Saint Nick himself.

The adults called him Santa Claus, but I knew he was the same Saint Nicholas that filled my stocking with nuts and fruit on the eve of his special day (December 6th). Here he was again with more gifts. Mom and my German grandparents had told me all about Saint Nicholas. They explained to me that he was the protector of children and a giver of gifts to kids. Saint Nicholas, they said, reminded us of the great gift God gave us in Jesus – and he really lived the teachings of Jesus because he loved and helped others. His giving of gifts at Christmas reminds us that we need to give gifts of love and help the poor people in our community and in the world.

That was a great Christmas Eve. Later that night, at Midnight Mass, I remembered the goodness and love of God that I learned about through the nativity set at Grandma’s and the Christmas tree and Saint Nicholas at home.

I hope you experience the love of God through your family and friends this Christmas season and all through the New Year.

Lemon Crumiri Cookies

These are the cookies I made this year for Christmas guests. Grandmas used to make them without the lemon zest and powdered sugar. But I like lemon so I put some zest in and I heavily dusted them with powdered sugar after they came out of the oven.

Crumiri are delicate, crumbly horseshoe-shaped cookies. They come from Piedmont, Italy where the oldest families of the region traditionally made them every Saturday. They are rich and surprising tender and get their special taste from the slightly crunchy cornmeal. I added lemon zest for a lemony taste.

1-3/4 sticks (200 grams) unsalted butter, room temperature
¾  cup (150 grams) sugar
2  eggs at room temperature
1-3/4  cups (240 grams) all-purpose flour
one pinch of salt
2/3  cup plus 1 tablespoon (120 grams) fine yellow cornmeal
the zest from one lemon (optional)
powdered sugar (optional)

Cream the butter and sugar in a mixer bowl until very light and fluffy.
Add the eggs, one at a time, beating thoroughly after each addition.
Sift the flour, salt and cornmeal together and sift again over the batter; mix well.

Shaping. You can shape these cookies either with a pastry bag or by hand. If using the pastry bag, spoon the dough into the bag fitted with a 3/8 – inch star-shaped tip (the traditional cookies are ribbed). Pipe 4-inch-long logs, ½-inch thick, about 2-inches apart on buttered and floured or parchment-lined baking sheets.

Or, roll pieces of the dough, each about the size of a walnut, into long thin logs of the same dimensions. Place 2-inches apart on the prepared baking sheets. Bend each piped or rolled log into a horseshoe.

If you use the hand rolled method you will have an easier time of it if you put the dough in the refrigerator for a few hours before you try to hand roll it into logs.

HINT: This is how I do it.  I don't have a piping bag so I just put the dough in a zip lock bag and cut the bottom corner off. If you use the piped method you can pipe the dough into a horseshoe shape – much easier than trying to bend it after it is on the baking sheet.

Baking. Heat the oven to 325 degrees F. Bake until lightly golden, about 12 to 14 minutes. Cool on racks. Dust with powered sugar as soon as they come from the oven. Makes two dozen cookies


Italians are very expressive and the eyes are an important means of communication because gli occhi sono le finestre dell’ anima (the eyes are the windows to the soul).

Many common Italian expressions contain the word occhio (eye):
A quattr’ occhi indicates a face-to-face conversation.
Mettere gli occhi addosso means to show particular interest in a person.
Fare gli occhi dolci is to demonstrate a yearning or special liking for a person

.A mother who speaks very fondly of her children will say they are la pupilla degli occhi, which is equivalent to “apple of her eye.”
Avere gli occhi foderati di prosciutto (to have one’s eyes filled with ham) means not to see obvious things.
When somebody does something questionable and expects the other person to look the other way, the expression used is chiudere un occhio (to close an eye).

We have a new Italian grandma story sent in by Linda Consolo. Click HERE to read her story or go to the home page of and click on  Italian Family Memories.

Do you have a story about your Italian family? Send it to me and I will post it.  Click HERE to send your story

Till next time - have happy days.

Thanks much for your interest in Italian cookies and Italian traditions. Come visit us soon or send a note. 

Arrivederci  -  Dio ti benedica
Rev. Fr. Mike