David and I have continued the Bonanno Christmas Eve tradition and over the years, it’s evolved into something pretty special. The night begins with a homemade Italian dinner. I attempt to recreate grandma Bonanno’s hearty meat sauce, meatballs, lasagna, garlic bread, and Italian dressing. Not just for my guests, but for me.
It’s my way of slipping back into time—the smell of diced garlic takes me into her kitchen, where my small frame stands next to hers. In the rolling of meatballs, I can see my grandmother’s loving hands moving one over the other, making round shapes. Taking a pinch of oregano, I can hear her deep laugh echo from the past.
“How much oregano, Caston?”
“This much,” she would say, taking the herb between her fingers and sprinkling it in the sauce with laughter.
By filling my kitchen with these scents, I bring her back to life, if only in my mind’s eye.
We’ve also created our own traditions; like sharing gratitude.
Every year after dinner, we gather around the Christmas tree. I hand out our personalized ornaments (some with worn names) and then we share what we’re grateful for and where we see God working in our lives.
This Christmas Eve, we each took our turn, sharing one beautiful sentiment after the next.
Someone in our group sat silently, procrastinating. After everyone had spoken, she was the only one left who hadn’t shared. Ms. broken-hearted shuffled hesitant feet toward the tree.
“This year, I wanted to take a pass on my “grateful” speech. In the past two weeks, I’ve been in the hospital with my own health issues, I buried my 28 year old brother, watched my dad wail with grief (I’d never seen my dad cry before) and listen to my 10 year old nephew tell me how he had to give CPR to his granddad. It’s been a rough couple of weeks. I just don’t feel grateful, I feel broken.”
She had only scratched the surface of her treacherous journey. Like Job in all his suffering, she too has traveled a rough road. My heart ached for her. Our Christmas Eve turned silent night.
She took a courageous breath and continued. “It’s not that I’m not grateful, it’s just that I don’t feel grateful. There’s a difference, you know. I believe that God has a plan, even though I can’t see it. And I certainly don’t understand it. So I’m still thankful because my Lord and Savior, Jesus, has a bigger plan in all this. That’s the only thing I’m certain of.”
She wiped her tears, hung her ornament on the tree, and then picked up presents and passed them around the room.
This Christmas season delivered a special gift. Through a hurting heart, I was reminded that in longing for lost loved ones, deep disappointments, and uncertain futures, there’s hope.
An expectation that God’s plan is far greater than what is seen—even when things appear hopeless.
She shed new light: our hope isn’t in the celebrated birth nor in the death, it’s in the resurrection.
She wanted a pass on Christmas, but in standing up, she strengthened her faith.
And strengthened ours.