Dinner for 50
This Christmas gathering spans nearly a century
Annette and Dan are surrounded by their daughters, sons-in-law, and grandchildren as they gather in the living room for a family photo.
Photos by Scott Mullin
The holidays are important for many people because of what they represent. For some it is the familiar scent of pine, the crackling of the fireplace, and the smell of cinnamon candles. For others it is traditions they were raised with, like opening their advent calendar or decorating their favorite sugar cookies. But, for most it is usually the memories that are created by being together. The same is true this season for Annette and Dan O’Brien, who have been gathering with their extended family for almost 50 years.
When the O’Briens first moved into their large and gracious home on Main Street in 2003 they had four girls—Julie, Stephanie, Katherine, and Megan. The youngest was in middle school and the oldest was well into her college years. Little did Annette and Dan know how their family would grow. Today their daughters are married and between them they have a total of eight grandchildren. Finding time to get together is always important, but Christmas Eve and Day is their most special time of year.
Annette’s traditional Christmas holiday started when she was a young girl living in Brooklyn with her parents and brother. Then she was known as Annette Nicolosi and stresses with gaiety and fondness that she was raised in a “very large Italian family.” She adds: “My mother was one of six so there were always lots of aunts and uncles around, which meant lots of food and celebrating.” One of Annette’s main responsibilities was to help with the cooking, but she says that it’s the sounds of the season she remembers well. “The family was always playing music, particularly opera,” recalls Annette and today the arias of La Boheme and Madame Butterfly still resonate.
So, when Annette and Dan met in college the fact that he came from a large family (he was one of seven children) was certainly familiar territory, but according to Annette, the O’Briens kept it as a more intimate affair. As one can imagine that did not last for long. Dan’s childhood family—which now totals 40 including his 90 year-old mother—were also from nearby New York City and New Jersey so it wasn’t long before they were joining in the ever-growing and expanding-holiday tradition.
Each Christmas Eve, Annette and Dan host their entire family, which totals more than 50 members. The festivities begin in the early afternoon starting with drinks and appetizers. As the day progresses they move into the main dining room that can seat everyone (including the kiddie table) for dinner and dessert. Annette’s brother-in-law Joe is usually at the piano accompanied by one or more of the grandchildren where carols are sung.
Later in the evening, another brother-in-law dressed up as Santa and an aunt as Mrs. Claus appear at the front door with gifts for the children. Annette is still surprised the grandchildren haven’t figured out who he is, but says thank goodness the fun hasn’t been spoiled. Presents from Santa are opened and the adults join in with their own grab bag contributed to by all.
“It is very loud with lots and lots of screaming and playing,” she says with good humor. Eventually, as the grandchildren tire, the family begins to disperse and tuck in for the night. Aunts, uncles, and the great grandmother will return to their own homes, but Annette and Dan’s daughters, sons-in-law, and grandchildren will all tumble into beds under their own roof only to start the celebration all over again in the morning.
“It is just our immediate family on Christmas Day,” explains Annette, “but we love to include some dear friends, so we are still about 25 people.” A delicious meal that honors her Italian roots is served consisting of everything from baked ziti and eggplant to calamari and beef tenderloin. And of course there is a smorgasbord of desserts, exclaims Annette. The food is a significant centerpiece, but the O’Brien’s will not hesitate to say the most special part of the Christmas holiday is that everyone has a wonderful time, because everyone is together. As it should be.
Magic touch –– Photos in order: The family gathers together. Cousins Sean and Daniel check out the lineup while waiting for Santa’s arrival. Daughters Megan (holding her son Thomas) and Stephanie assist granddaughters Julianna and Anna with hanging the stockings. Julie helps Annette with tree trimmings. April and cousins Sean and Conor work a puzzle.