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How Mario Saved Christmas... and Other Super Nintendo Tales

By: MissM

 

There are many reasons to revel in the holidays when being a kid. Gifts would certainly make that list, but to be certain, the gifts are only part of it. Family would most likely be the biggest reason for the season, which is a terrifying prospect for my younger self. Out of all my cousins I was always the odd one out. A pale sickly girl with a penchant for collecting toys well past my youthful expiration date, I found myself having a hard time fitting in with my cousins as we got older, even though I wanted nothing more than to be close with them. Christmas celebrations at the time were always big and usually celebrated at my grandmother’s house. Side note, my grandmother’s house was a block away from my parents and still is to this day.

 

Family from all over the city would converge at my grandmother’s for a traditional Italian Christmas. I am not sure what a traditional Italian Christmas is, I just know that ours involved lots of pasta, tomato sauce, and meat. My throat burns just thinking about it all. While the adults would gather to laugh and relax from the stress of the holiday my cousins and I would entertain ourselves with board games or impromptu Christmas shows that we’d perform in front of our grand family. Those were the best.

 

Something eventually changed though as it so often does. We all started to get older. No one wanted to perform in skits. Board games quickly lost their luster. With nothing else but our personalities to get us through the day I eventually found myself in trouble. I was a dork, forever to be un-cool in the eyes of my cousins who all seemed so popular. Clearly I was dealing with battle wounds of public school infiltrating my family life, but the reality was I desperately wanted my cousins to like me. I could feel us all pulling away from each other and this was Christmas! Some of us only saw each other on Christmas; what sort of connection would we have to hold us together until the next year?

 

Ironically that connection would be in the image of an Italian plumber created in Japan. Even my older cousins had a penchant for Mario because he was Italian. I have no idea if Mario was a positive Italian role model or not but he was much better than the violence of the Godfather which was always on heavy rotation during the holidays. Anyways, I digress. The year was 1991 and I had gotten a Super Nintendo for Christmas with Super Mario World as a game.

 

With boredom setting in with my cousins and the Christmas day having only begun, I knew something needed to be done. I simply refused to sit in a world of dullness on Christmas. I took a gamble. I asked my cousins if they’d be interested in playing Super Mario World on the SNES. Everyone seemed quite positive with the idea! I was surprised at their reaction, but knew I had to keep the momentum going. Up next was the adult seal of approval. My dad has always been wrapped around my finger so it was rather simple to ask, “Dad, we are all bored here, could I bring my Super Nintendo down with the new Mario game?”

 

He contemplated for a moment. “Who is gonna unhook it and bring it here?” I looked towards my cousin Joe who was slightly older and really smart with technology. He volunteered quickly enough and with my dad’s approval my cousins and I tip toed away from the prying eyes of the adults and down to my house to bring Mario to my grandmother’s for Christmas. The Koopa Kids and us certainly shared a sense of mischief and adventure.

 

A funny thing happened. After connecting the system to a TV at my grandmother’s place, we all experienced a whole new world of video gaming. 

There was no fighting over whose turn it was. Everyone was patient and thrilled to be witnessing a Mario game. Even the cousins who were usually unimpressed with dorky stuff took solace in the adventures of Mario and Luigi, even new friend Yoshi. Mario had new moves and abilities that kept us entertained for hours. We all laughed and gasped in awe at the unfolding levels.

 

The exciting thing about this experience was that I felt like I fit in with my cousins. An even mix of girls and boys spanning about six years apart from the youngest to the oldest, we were all getting along. My dorkiness was no longer a bother. I felt a sense of closeness with my cousins and my fear that we were all growing up and finding our own separate ways in life was put off some more, because we were all bonded for that moment by an Italian plumber.

 

If there is one thing I have learned from Pop Culture, it is that we all love a good sequel. Riding high over the Christmas of ’91, my cousins and I were thrilled to play some more Mario games the following Christmas. 1992 saw the Super Nintendo with one of the most creative games ever invented: Mario Paint. Drawing, animation, and composing music were just a few of the amazing things one could do with this game.

 

That Christmas was even more special because my cousins and I all got to share our creative sides with each other. If we thought Yoshi eating fruit was new territory then our minds were truly blown by the creative space found in Mario Paint. 

I was still socially awkward compared to my other cousins, but I did not feel like that was a hindrance. Quite the opposite! We were still finding ways to bond and learn about each other. We each had our own unique tastes. Those were some magical Christmases.

 

Christmas in ’93 was different. There was a shift. The large Italian Christmas tradition at my grandmother’s house was moved and shortened to another time in December. Aunts and uncles wanted to spend Christmas day in their own homes. That was a difficult year. I no longer had the excitement of spending time growing close with my cousins all day. It was just me and my baby brother adrift with our parents, grandparents, and my aunt and uncle. (This was my immediate family.)

 

Starfox was the game I was addicted to that Christmas. Holed up in my room avoiding contact with everyone, I stewed in my loneliness while piloting a ship made up of polygons in empty space. I missed my cousins. I feared my days as a shy social mess would continue at a disadvantage to my own personal happiness. I was also really hormonal; not a good combo.

 

My Uncle Pat checked on me a couple times. Eventually his check-ins led to interest in the game I was playing. While my parents have happily indulged my dorky side for years, they have always shunned the idea that they possess a dorky bone in their bodies. (This is simply incorrect, my parents are some of the biggest dorks ever, just don’t tell them that.) My Uncle Pat has always been a different breed. He introduced me to Star Wars as a kid and was just an all around nerdy kind of guy even though at the time I assumed he was an adult and unable to enjoy the cool things that seemed interesting to me.

 

I was completely wrong. We sat together and played Starfox for a decent amount of time. It was a first for sure. Aside from the early days when my parents and I first played on a Nintendo together, I had never really had an adult family member take an active interest in something that I felt was cool. 

It was such a refreshing feeling that helped to make that Christmas special. I may not have had my cousins with me, but there could still be someone I could make memories with. I even got out of my shell and joined the rest of my family in my parent’s living room, which has always become one of the reasons I enjoy Christmas in the first place.

 

Finally, I would be a fool to side step another great SNES game that has been forever tied to the Christmases during the Super Nintendo Years. That game was Final Fantasy III. More accurately the game was really the sixth in the series, but for some reason the game was released as a third installment in the U.S. The corrected numerical order has since been changed to correspond with the order in which they were released in Japan. Either way, in 1994 I spent Christmas with a cast of characters that have been with me ever since.

 

I was still lonely. The large Christmases with my cousins were a distant memory and my baby brother had no interest in video games at the time. (That would change a few years later with the Nintendo 64.) Also, I was too young to really wrap myself up with the adult conversation that occurred with my parents, aunt, and uncle. There just was not a place that I really fit in. I had to find a place. That place just happened to come from the Super Nintendo. A new tradition of escaping into magical worlds was quickly becoming the norm. Final Fantasy III (VI) was a whole new fantasy for me. The previous released sequel had captivated my heart like no other, but this new one sought to replace the sense of adventure and whimsy I was missing from my cousins.

 

The purpose of any role playing game is not to have just one playable character at your finger tips but an entire cast of characters to interact with. The beautifully mysterious Terra, the adorable Mog, dreamy Locke, and the brave yet fragile Celes were but a few of the characters I met that Christmas.

 

I found myself embroiled in their lives and fighting to ensure they survived for the next adventure. It was a rather emotional Christmas that year. Originally I thought it was just due to the excellent storytelling from the creative team behind the game. It was more than that though; it was the realization that time was moving on. Family, while still important, was not the touchstone it once was. I missed my cousins. I was missing the excitement of a large family and the holidays. I was also confused and hurt that large family get-togethers for Christmas were just no longer in the cards. Change was all around me both physically and emotionally. I was not entirely sure things would ever be the same.

 

They were never the same, but that was not a terrible thing. As I have gotten older I have learned the value of cherishing the time spent with family and loved ones no matter the size. I have grown up into a dorky woman that has become more and more bubbly and interactive with people than ever before. While I still enjoy a good escape into a magical world, I also embrace any time I have to spend with the ones I love this time of year. (Hopefully throughout the year, not just with Christmas.) While I may not see my cousins at Christmas time like I did in the past, I keep in touch and fondly recall the years when Mario once got us through our differences and the Super Nintendo got me through an assortment of life’s changes. Who knows, maybe there will even come a year where we are all able to celebrate a big Italian Christmas again like before. Merry Christmas and happy holidays everyone, I hope you are all able to enjoy this time of year! Be sure to warp through a green pipe or two for safe measure!

       

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MissM Posted on Dec 18, 2014 at 06:27 AM

@vaporman, thank you. Now that this is my first Christmas divorced, I have been thinking a lot about past Christmases and this was something that just came to my mind. I think my cousins and I started out so close because our parents were all close. But as we got older we all sort of drifted apart and that was really hard. But I am a huge proponent of family no matter if it is large or small, so Christmas always brings that out the most. I am really glad you have your family and friends Vaporman, that is awesome! I hope you have a fantastic Christmas.

@HojuKoolander, Nintendo really does bind generations! We would get my grandmother to play Duck Hunt. She wouldn't play anything else, but for some reason she loved that game. I just remember thinking that was the craziest thing ever. I didn't have a lot of Snes games either, but the ones I did own were very memorable. Now I feel like playing some Starfox. I forgot how fun that game was. I hope you have a nice Christmas!

Hoju Koolander Posted on Dec 17, 2014 at 05:00 PM

It's definitely Nintendo that binds generations and family. Genetic connections are great, but who's your favorite character on Mario Kart? Nintendo breaks down all walls. I remember being fascinated with Mario Paint and the fact that they stuck in that fly swatter game for the kids that weren't very good at "creating art". Starfox was the game packaged with the Super NES set that I got one Christmas and I never really expanded my collection past that (just rented from Blockbuster). But really what more did you need? Cool graphics, neat character designs and simple, but challenging gameplay. Good times.

Vaporman87 Posted on Dec 16, 2014 at 09:53 PM

Your experiences with your extended family, especially your cousins, it touching. My own experiences with my cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents... they weren't like yours. I had very little in common with my cousins on either side.

On my Dad's side, either they were never around and I barely knew them, which made me uncomfortable around them, or I knew them and... just didn't like them much. :)

On my Mom's side, almost all of my cousins fit into one of three categories: Jocks/Army Guys, Delinquents, and Girls. I fit in with exactly none of these three categories, and therefore did not fit in at all. I made no attempt to try either.

No, my enjoyment of Christmas came with just immediate family, and friends. And, it's still that way today (though with a marriage and 3 kids - and one more on the way - our family has grown and so has our group of friends).

Great story Miss M. Thanks for sharing.

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