Cyndi Lauper's Holiday Traditions

by Cyndi Lauper

Cyndi Lauper and Jake Shears perform at the 7th annual Cyndi Lauper & Friends: Home for the Holidays benefit concert.

When it comes to Christmas, I don’t think I’m much different than the next person who loves it. Except that everyone is different and some traditions I’ve picked up along the way from other people, but mostly from my family. What I grew up enjoying has stuck with me.

When I was a kid, every Christmas, my family and I would drive around in our two-toned aqua-blue and white Chevy, to look at the Christmas displays. We would comb our neighborhood and get inspired by the decorations. Then on the way home, we would have discussions about which decoration was best. And, the best thing for me was that we would drive around to look late at night. That was magical. Especially if it would snow while we were out. I still like to look at the lights around the neighborhoods.

But the biggest thing we would do is come into Manhattan, which is what we called, “the city.”  Even though New York City consists of five boroughs, Queens being one, everyone I knew in Queens, always referred to Manhattan as the city.  And around Christmas time the city was a beautiful display of lights and Christmas themes that were famous along Fifth Avenue. I’m still a sucker for all of that, except now I live in Manhattan.

I remember every Christmas Eve we would try to go to Midnight Mass. We didn’t always make it. But we always talked about it. We talked about the singing and the pageantry. And that it was in Latin too, which made me feel like I was in a foreign place. The way I saw it was, that Angels were painted on the ceiling close to the choir, which made me feel like there might be a few of them hanging around up there singing along too.

Cyndi Lauper and Sandra Bernhard perform at the 7th annual Cyndi Lauper & Friends: Home for the Holidays benefit concert.

Each celebration around 10 pm on Christmas Eve, my mom would make her potato frittata and I would help cut potatoes to fry. I was then what is now known as her sous chef. My mom would fry the potatoes in one pan and prepare the eggs for a different frying pan. And I was always amazed how she knew exactly how to make it rise and cook perfectly in her pan with the cover on it. I’m still working on that. 

When the food was prepped for our late dinner, Nana would start to make her own special eggnog. She showed me once. I watched her break the eggs in a big bowl and get out her egg beater. She added heavy cream.  She added sugar. I watched as the mixture turn into a light yellow kind of swirl that eventually thickened and bubbled. As she kept turning the egg beater she’d say, “See that?” She showed me how her mixture turned from thin to thick and frothy.  And then she told me softly that sherry was the key to it. And it wasn’t cooking sherry either.  But us kids could only have a little taste for Christmas.  I’ve never had any eggnog like she used to make again. But this year I may try to make it.

Now, one of my favorite Christmas Eves was when we hung next door by my Aunt Gracie and Uncle Vinny’s, and my two cousins, Susan and Vinny, who we grew up with. It was a wild time because we got to stay up late and wait for Santa. Aunt Gracie and Uncle Vinny had their table full of frittata, fish, and salad.  There were also Italian cookies (the three colored layered ones), and cannoli, pastries, and candy-coated almonds.  And, I was told by my cousin Susan that Santa’s elves even left candy canes on the tree the night before. Come to think of it, we, the children, were wildly jacked up on sugar that night. 

In our own apartment, downstairs from Nana and Grandpa, we would usually turn the Yule Log on the television. Channel 11 had it every year.  But I remember that night, at Aunt Gracie’s and Uncle Vinny’s, we didn’t need a yule log to warm us because we had one another. And that was a tradition growing up. I saw us as a closely-knit family in our two connected houses made with shingles that looked like the color of Good and Plenty candy.

So now around Christmas, I start to think about being together with my family and friends who are like family. I start to look at the Christmas lights and put some blinking baubles up myself. Even if it’s just a little. I love the smell of the trees outside and in. I love the bustle. I love the Christmas songs. In fact, I have so many different kinds of Christmas CDs that when my husband and I were first married he said that I had most of the craziest Christmas recordings he’d heard. But he loves the Vienna Boys Choir recordings. I get as many different kinds as I can get, because I love Christmas music.

Cyndi Lauper and Jake Shears perform at the 7th annual Cyndi Lauper & Friends: Home for the Holidays benefit concert.

Although I am never good at Christmas parties because I am a terrible planner, I think I threw at least one that was fun. I was a teenager and living in Valley Stream. I spent Christmas with the Pepatones and my friend’s Uncle Sal I think. After dinner they sang.  They sang, “The Twelve Days of Christmas.”  Grandma Pepatone could never pronounce some of the English words well and would always wind up with the line, Two Turkala Dubs.  And she would laugh and everyone laughed and since then, I realized, nobody ever really gets it right and it’s the perfect song for everyone to have a line and sing. So, I took a note from that time and the one Christmas party that I felt went well everybody sang out after dinner. And everyone was merry. As we raised a glass of cheer and sang, the Twelve Days of Christmas. Nobody got it right.

Anyway, this year when you just don’t know what to give for Christmas

There is a really great thing going on here in New York. It is The New York Coat Drive. For $20 you can donate a new coat to someone who doesn’t have a coat. You can make a donation in someone’s name and send it as a gift. Spread the warmth of giving around cause baby it’s cold outside.

You can give a gift that gives back

Earlier this year at the Women’s March, I was blown away to see so many young women embracing the message of ‘Girls Just Want To Have Fun-damental Rights’ on their handmade signs. Seeing this anthem continue to empower so many people to speak out and get involved, inspired me to find new ways to further spread this powerful message of equality for all. Thanks to the folks at Omaze, we made a t-shirt. And all proceeds from my t-shirt support the important work of a women’s charity and the True Colors Fund.  Itdoesn’t just make the perfect gift. It makes a difference.

Helping the hungry

No one should ever go hungry. What better time to give back than the Holidays? Consider donating to a food pantry.  Or make a day of it by volunteering with a friend at a soup kitchen! If that’s not possible, then I must recommend the God's Love We Deliver Cookbook. God's Love We Deliver is New York City’s biggest provider of meals to people who are too sick to shop or cook for themselves. Years ago, a director I worked with named Ed Bianchi gave me his family recipe for risotto. He’d learned it from his mom and he taught it to me. It was one of the best I’d ever tasted. So when the good folks at God's Love We Deliver asked me to contribute a recipe to their cookbook; I didn’t have to think twice. Pick up this book for the foodie in your life this year!

AT&T presents check to the True Colors Fund at the 7th annual Cyndi Lauper & Friends: Home for the Holidays benefit concert.

Hogging the eggnog

The Holidays are stressful. I think you earned that drink. Make your nan’s eggnog or somebody else’s recipe for your family and friends. When all the presents are wrapped, and all the shopping is done, and all your baubles are blinking, have a nog and watch the yule log. I don’t know is that still on? I think you can download it.

Don’t forget to go exploring wintertime in New York City

The lights, the decorations, the department store windows, Central Park after a snowfall… I may see you there. I’m proud to call New York my home year round, but there’s something extra magical about it that only happens this time of year.

Loving your neighbor

Hey, remember in “A CHRISTMAS CAROL” when Scrooge meets the second spirit who shows him the true Christmas spirit? The heart of the Holiday season is spreading goodness, joy, and love to your neighbor. At this pivotal point in our nation’s history, we each have a personal responsibility to stand up for the rights of our fellow Americans – especially the most vulnerable. Let your voice be heard on LGBTQ equality. Join the HRC Action Center this Holiday season.

Lastly, spreading goodwill

One of my favorite holiday songs is “Home for the Holidays,” because everyone should have a loving, safe place where they feel welcome and at home – especially this time of year. That’s why, every year, we host an annual concert “Cyndi Lauper and Friends: Home for the Holidays,” to raise money for my True Colors Fund, which works to end homelessness among LGBTQ youth. This year, the concert was presented by the folks at AT&T, who also support True Colors Fund programs like the True Fellowship – which gives LGBTQ youth who’ve experienced homelessness an opportunity to grow as advocates and leaders and collaborate on our projects. Check out their video here! Can you help us get to 100,000 views?

Have a very Merry Christmas, “bless us all, everyone.”

Xx
Cyndi