It is an utter rarity that I feel like I’m in the adult generation of my family. Partly this is queerness — our milestones don’t always follow culturally prescribed timelines — and it’s living in Los Angeles, where it’s common to focus on career growth over maturity. Mostly though: I was born into the kind of strict Italian Catholic family that doesn’t really expect kids to grow up, move on, make our own way in the world.
You marry, take over the family business, have small, chest-haired little Italians and then you’re buried in the wall of the mausoleum under the family name. There’s a set path and it is big and warm and exciting and highly structured and dripping with tradition.
In this area, the holidays were a particularly strong time for the Espositos.
My dad always sang at Christmas Eve Mass. He’s a tenor and O Holy Night is his specialty. He practiced in the den, hitting that high note over and over in a room that also housed the tiny TV/VCR combo I eventually brought to college, the desktop computer I AOL’d on using my parents’ dial-up internet, and the pull-out couch my Nana slept on when, after her husband died, she came to stay every Christmas Eve.
Mass wasn’t our only Christmas Eve tradition. We also put out treats for Santa — our homemade knot cookies from my Nana’s handwritten recipe — and sat and listened to my dad’s slow, emphatic reading of The Night Before Christmas. Right before bed, there was the annual setting of the ELF TRAP, which we set to — you know — catch elves. Each year the design was different and while my sisters and I stacked empty shipping boxes and balanced wrapping paper tubes, my mom stood at our untuned upright piano, plinking out O Tannenbaum and singing along in German before transitioning to the only other song she knew how to play by heart, House of the Rising Sun. In my mind, those songs run together, like when a mix CD skips at that one part and so afterward you always insert a skip when singing along with the radio.
After I came out, Christmas Eve changed. It stopped being so damn Catholic, which was great and sad — given the choice to hate myself or question the Church, I eventually chose to question the Church. And, again eventually, the rest of my family did, too. Even though we still sometimes went to…