The Commoroto brothers’ Christmas is measured in meatballs.
30,000 of them, to be exact.
By Christmas Eve, they and their tireless staff at Dad’s Stuffings — a fourth-generation Italian butcher shop and market at 16th and Ritner — will have been making their famous chicken meatballs for a week straight, enough to feed nearly a quarter of South Philadelphia, if anyone is counting. But customers will pour in from most everywhere.
Each meatball is a product of a long and storied lineage, dating back many Christmases ago, to when Grandpa John Ruggieri first opened the shop in 1923 — and soon married his landlord’s daughter, Daisy. Richard, John and Carmen Commoroto Jr.'s father, Carmen Sr., conjured up the meatball recipe at the counter. It’s a family secret. All I can tell you is they are delicious.
From grinder to mixer to fryer, countless times over, this holiday week for the Commoroto clan is a familiar dance.
And everywhere in the city, so many are falling into the rhythms of the rush and bustle of Christmas.
At the Malvern Loop trolley station, Gary Mason inspects his trolley, making sure the decorations that festoon the windows and the handrails and seats are just so. Mason, who is a driver, has been decorating his trolleys for three decades — and eventually inspired a SEPTA-wide competition.
Growing up in Penrose Park, he would sit at his parents’ bedroom window, looking down below in wonderment as the trolleys sparked their way down Island Avenue. And every year, his mother would decorate the house, hanging the previous years’ Christmas cards on a string across the living room, and take him on the trolley to the light show at Wanamakers.
“It was the best thing in the world,” he said.
His trolley, and the tradition of decorating it, have been there for him as he raised his four children. And it helped get him through the loss of his wife. And it helped him find love again: Gary and his fiancée, Diana, both love to decorate for the holidays.
“I love to bring joy to the people," he said, “and see all the kids with their smiling faces and how they jump with joy when I pull in and they know that holiday season is here.”
At the historic Mother Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Society Hill, the Rev. Mark Tyler delivered his Christmas message early, one that should stay with us all this holiday season. Preaching of the prophet Habakkuk, Tyler titled his sermon “The Gospel of the Grinch.”
How, like when the Grinch takes the trappings of Whoville’s Christmas celebration in the classic Dr. Seuss tale, he could not take their joy. The Whos kept singing.
Thank you, Reverend.
It is my special joy to have this conversation about our city with you, all year long. So, allow this to be my holiday card to you. A note of thanks. For smiling and shouting, and crying and laughing, along. For being here with me. I’ll do my best to keep you reading in the year ahead.
But first, come Christmas Eve, the city will quiet and the cars of the Ferris wheel at the Christmas Village will sway a final time above the city, before stilling to a stop, and the shops will be shuttered, and the village will empty. Crowds of last-minute revelers will stroll past the “Miracle on 13th Street” lights in South Philadelphia, because although the electric forest fire burns through the new year, it always seems to shine a little brighter before Christmas morning.
And the trolley man will switch off the holiday tunes that filled his car with glad tidings all season and head home to his own cheer — his new love and their glasses of eggnog.
The Commorotos, their meatballs made, and their crown roasts of pork and stuffed filet mignons picked up, will lock the doors and toast each other with a bottle of schnapps, provided by Larry from the Brother’s Two bar down the block. And they will head home to their family table and their mother, Annette, and her calamari -- stuffed, of course.
And it will be Christmas in Philly.