Chestnuts of Joy

We went into Manhattan recently and saw the Rockefeller Center tree, the colored lights, the ice skaters.

skater with doll DSC_4284.jpg

But it was the aroma that got me. There was a spot near Rockefeller Center where the air was laced with the scent of roasting chestnuts. That aroma is not so ubiquitous these days, but when I do experience it, to me, it announces…Christmas, the Season of Joy.


Did you ever hold a warm chestnut in your palm, savor the scent, then unwrap the pliant shell to reveal the sweet meat inside?  To me it represents a feeling I have about Christmases past, and present. There’s a joy about it. Yes, it awakens the joy deep inside me that sometimes lies dormant.

I sometimes think, “What is this joy thing all about? Why do I feel joy sometimes?” I think it has a lot to do with something deep inside…me and you.

I suspect many of you too are familiar with that warm, chestnut-of-a feeling deep inside you at Christmas time, kinda like a smile on your heart, right?

chestnuts smile IMG_7204.jpg


And maybe you, like me, experience it when we give something to another. It’s wordlessly saying, “I care about you, I want to be kind to you.” And I think that gives us joy. And I think it’s a universal joy.

Tree lights.jpg

Well, Christmas for sure, is upon us once again and as the lyrics go, “It’s the most wonderful time of the year.”

But I want to tell you about a couple who don’t wait for Christmas; they make anytime a “most wonderful time”, even when the days are hazy, hot and humid. And it awakens their joy.

Dennis and Janet DeCrista, yes DeCRISTA, of West Islip, NY (For those on distant soil, Islip is pronounced, Ice slip.) hold a pig roast for family, friends, neighbors, coworkers…and friends of all of the above.


Janet and Dennis DeCrista

They usually host between 70 and 90 guests. It’s like catering a wedding…every year. Dennis has said to me in the past, “There are a lot of people here that I don’t know,” but he’s delighted for their presence. The DeCristas near completion of their second decade of gracious offerings and I attended almost every one of them.

They start their pig roast day early. Depending on the pig size they allow 6 to 7 hours of slow roasting so it will be succulent ready at eating time. They first learned of pig roasting from their friend Jorge who learned it from his dad in Puerto Rico; his dad even made his own charcoal.

Pig on spit Rob Jorge DSC_0264.jpg

Rob bastes pig while Jorge rotates the spit.

People come from near and far to West Islip toting not egg nog and fragrant candles, but beer, wine, soda, salads, deserts of many fantastic kinds and whatever else they think might work well with the annual feast.

cake Pig volcano DSC_2519.jpg

A volcano cake complete with piglet decorations

The DeCristas won’t accept any financial help toward their feast, It’s been offered and they’ve graciously declined. But guests have showered them with all sorts of pignaphernalia.


creative pig salutes abound

And yes, they have a tree, a spreading olive tree strewn with colored lights, which provides shade and limbs for kids to climb on. Kids who will carry these moments on when they tell their kids about…the “old” neighborhood and the DeCristas.

I don’t know, maybe there is something in the water in West Islip, this is half a block away:

I think these generous hosts, just like many you, leave a signature legacy not often realized.

Tree lights Rob laughs DSC_4327.jpg

Laughs under the lights

Now at the roast, you may not hear the jingle of bells but you’ll hear the jangle of horseshoes as they clank against a metal spike.

Jason DSC_1340.jpg

Some take the sand bag toss…very seriously

Bocci and beer pong and the sandbag toss brings further good cheer.


“God Winked” as synchronicity “hangs” a red bocci ornament on a pine for my theme

It’s not an easy job preparing and roasting a pig and the gastronomic spread that goes with it. Dennis built this stainless steel buffet table just for their annual event.


Dennis says,”Gentlemen, start your engines.”

Dennis is in the stainless steel business so his art comes in handy come Christmas in August.

2008 spread IMG_0060.jpgThe DeCristas do of course hope for good weather but for me, a heavy downpour makes for great photo fun. And the kids are the best subjects. See my video at the bottom of this post.

DSC_4549 crp bw.jpg

A moment she’ll likely remember

You might ask, “Why on Earth would they take on such an onerous task, year after year…for two decades?”

Well, as I suggested above,  look inside yourself when you give a wrapped gift to someone you love. Isn’t there a warm chestnut-of-a-feeling deep inside? The anticipation? The smile on your heart that waits to see, waits to feel the effect of your giving? Well, that chestnut  my friend is the warmth of joy. It’s a lightness so welcome in this often very heavy, very weary, world.

And that’s what this is all about. Just as you give brightly wrapped gifts to be opened at Christmas, the DeCristas give love wrapped in hospitality…every summer.

 Group for blog 2006 IMG_0078.jpg

2006 pig roast, Cheryl manned the camera

They, just like you, experience joy in seeing other people happy. It’s just who they are, it’s just what they’re about. It’s having the Christmas spirit in their hearts and a need for others to help unwrap it.

Now I’ve never heard the DeCristas articulate, “Peace, good will toward all men,” but they are quite eloquent in expressing it. They make a summer day…a “most wonderful time of the year.”

My Chestnuts of Joy video:


Be well,

See my alternate blog,


8 replies »

  1. Janet,
    You guys show such love and hospitality to so many. You DeCristas do the AMAZING job. I think I speak for all who know you when I say, “Thank you and Merry Christmas”
    Me and Cheryl


  2. Annette,
    So glad you liked my post. Sometimes I feel I’m in people’s faces with my camera. But they usually later love the results. I try to help carry the memories for them to enjoy in the future. That Rain Roast video puts a smile on my face. Maybe through it, some of the kids in the video will have a laugh for their grandkids. Thanks again for the kind words, Merry Christmas.
    Uncle Lee


  3. Jan, Thank you so much for your constant encouragement, it’s very much appreciated. Sometimes my posts are not for everyone and I feel I’m writing for those few who get what I’m saying. You, and others, are among those few. Again, thank you and,
    Merry Christmas,


  4. uncle lee…what an amazing job you did!!..but then ya always do!!!!Send our love to Cheryl!!..Merry Christmas!!!.. I am not sending out cards this year..we have chosen to make a donation instead to make a wish!


  5. Uncle lee such a great story of how great those times are so true !! Thank you for always capturing the great moments ! That pic of the group I was like WOW love the smiles on my boys faces !!


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