Pasadena Rose Queen 2024 Naomi Stillitano | The Inside Story: The Glory of Christmas Eve

Just two weeks before, The Rose Queen and Her Family Prepare For One of the Biggest Days of their Lives

Pasadena Rose Queen 2024 Naomi Stillitano | The Inside Story: The Glory of Christmas Eve Pasadena Rose Queen PHOTO: BY PASADENA TOURNAMENT OF ROSES® | 2024 Rose Queen® Naomi Stillitano speaking with local television news KTLA at the 105th Rose Queen Coronation.
PHOTO: BY PASADENA TOURNAMENT OF ROSES® | 2024 Rose Queen® Naomi Stillitano speaking with local television news KTLA at the 105th Rose Queen Coronation.

Just a few days before Christmas, the 2024 Rose Queen Naomi Stillitano and her family gather in her kitchen. The shimmer from their tree bounces off the walls, illuminating the dozens of cards and family photos on the side of their refrigerator—a familiar sight in most American kitchens.

PHOTO: BY PASADENA TOURNAMENT OF ROSES® | 2024 Rose Court® with Naomi Stillitano peering through the second floor balcony on Orange Grove.

The mahogany-paneled cabinets contrast with the stainless steel appliances as the Christmas tree lights beam from end to end. Cherry and crimson-sparkled ornaments, bulbous in their shape, dot the pine-shaped needles, while gold garland lines each branch like the winding roads of Italy’s Sila mountain range, part of the larger Apennine Mountains, located to the west of Cosenza.

For this family, their traditions stem nearly 6,000 miles away in Italy’s southernmost town. For the holidays, the Stillitano family celebrates “La Vigilia di Natale,” or Christmas Eve, a significant and festive celebration in Italian culture.

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It’s observed on the evening of December 24th and marks the culmination of the Advent season and the anticipation of Christmas Day.

For the Stillitano family, another holiday is approaching: New Year’s Day in a parade stretching around 5 and a half miles down Colorado Boulevard, the 135th Rose Parade.

PHOTO: Official Formal Portrait in the PASADENA TOURNAMENT OF ROSES® Tournament House on Orange Grove in Pasadena California | 2024 Rose Queen® Naomi Stillitano. The Rose Court attends nearly 100 community and media functions, serving as ambassadors of the Tournament of Roses, the Pasadena community, and the greater Los Angeles area. The grand finale for the Rose Court is riding on the Rose Court float in the Rose Parade® presented by Honda and attending the Rose Bowl Game both on New Year’s Day.
Staying Grounded

Nothing’s really changed,” Naomi said, who was crowned on Oct. 27. “We’re still in our honeymoon phase. We’re all really excited for the parade… I’m just going to try and enjoy it. The whole process.”

Naomi’s parents, Piero Stillitano and Nerida Gonzalez, noticed a change in pace from holiday seasons in the past.

“Usually around this time of the year,” Piero said. “I’m usually relaxing on the couch. Now, I’ve been on the phone, WhatsApp, FaceTime, talking to people. That’s what’s changed.” Piero has embraced his role as Naomi’s publicist, arranging interviews with both domestic and international outlets, a drastic shift from his role as the chief financial officer of CALSTART.

Naomi’s mother, Nerida, a full-time real estate broker, has begun to pursue her law degree, attending the Irvine College of Law, carpooling with Naomi is this new chapter in her life.

“I’m realizing how important this parade is to so many people,” Nerida said. “I’m learning so much from Naomi. I’m so inspired by her.

Naomi admitted its been difficult to be a student entrenched in the center of this new chapter, crediting her parents as a pillar of stability in the chaos of responsibilities of the crown, often making two or three public appearances a day, tethered with the challenging workload any 17-year-old senior in high school would have.

On top of it all, there simply isn’t much time for the three of them to come together as a family.

“I know that sounds so cliche,” Naomi said. “They’re my number one supporters and they’ll support me through anything… they keep me grounded. They show me true love.”

On the doorstep of their Christmas tradition, Naomi and her family are enjoying her holiday break from Arcadia High School, coming together to celebrate the holidays this season.

The Glory

One notable tradition associated with La Vigilia di Natale is the Feast of the Seven Fishes or “Festa dei Sette Pesci.”

The Feast of the Seven Fishes is a culinary tradition in which families prepare and serve a meal featuring a variety of fish and seafood dishes. The specific dishes can vary based on regional preferences and family recipes.

Stateside, the Stillitanos take their time to enjoy some of the local pleasantries the San Gabriel and San Fernando Valley have to offer, often visiting Christmas Tree Lane in Altadena, Candy Cane Lane in Woodland Hills, or the Upper Hastings Ranch’s Holiday LightUp.

Typically, Naomi’s brother Taaj is in charge of assembling their Christmas tree, handling the branches, while Naomi takes care of the lights and decorations.

However, this year, due to Naomi’s prior commitment at an event, the responsibility for setting up the tree shifted to her family, something Naomi has done since she took her first steps.

Consequently, they had to work together to ensure that the tree was decorated and ready for the holiday season, a tradition usually celebrated on December 8.

To Naomi’s chagrin, the tree needed some redecorating.

“It was all over the place,” Naomi said as her mother and father joined in the laughter.

“We all love it now; we think it’s the best tree ever,” Nerida added.

17 Again

Since October, Naomi has not left her youth behind, remembering the importance of just being a normal, 17-year-old.

Whether celebrating at Disneyland with the Rose Court after the announcement or distributing Halloween candy at the Tournament House—an occurrence rare in its history—Naomi has embraced the joy and exuberance of her adolescence.

“For me, it’s the little things that I remember,” Naomi said, recounting her trip to Balboa Island with Olivia Bohanec from La Salle College Preparatory, blasting music in the car. Even with all the glamour and the legacy of the parade and its queen, Naomi still couldn’t help being excited about seeing the float for the first time.

“I have absolutely no clue how parade day is going to go,” Naomi said with a smile. “I know it’s going to be an amazing day.”

Tethered to seeing the float for the first time, earlier this month the queen’s portrait was revealed inside the house, a symbol for the next queen to fill that role in 2025.

This year, the portrait was different, not only was Naomi in it, but the pose changed to add more character. Her emotions were there, a crowning moment for a young girl who dreamed of becoming the Rose Queen since she was a 7-year-old, newly traveled from a small town in the south of Italy, with her parents at the parade for the first time.

“It was a magical moment for me to see myself in that dress and in that crown,” Naomi said. “It was a very special moment and we all got very emotional.”

Not only was this a special moment for Naomi, but for both Piero and Nerida, most of all.

“When they put that portrait on the wall…it was the moment that really sealed the deal,” Piero said. “That’s it, she’s on the wall. For me, it was a very defining moment.”

“I’m still pinching myself,” Nerida added, “on how gorgeous the portrait is…this beautiful human being radiates beyond the portrait. It’s so telling of her.”

Family Comes First

As the parade approaches, a monumental day for the Stillitano’s awaits. A coronation of all the work, dedication, and the constant branches of support binding this entire family together lays the foundation for the next chapter in Naomi’s life.

Her excitement, coupled with her plans to pursue a career in entertainment, waits for her after she finishes high school. She plans to head back to Italy to visit her grandmother and sign with some modeling agencies.

Nerida plans to follow her daughter wherever she goes, even representing her as her manager, while the strands of support and love from Piero bind them all together.

“A Lot of the time, as parents, we push our kids to our own dreams,” Nerida said. “Instead of letting our kids grow and pursue their dreams. With that, I will be there with her because I want to support her and protect her along this path as well…my job as a mom is to be your biggest cheerleader.”

This moment seems to be a culmination they’ve been planning for since Naomi first came to America a decade ago, when one of the first things she did was go to the Rose Parade with her parents.

In all of this, both her parents know that they’ll be exactly who they’re supposed to be: Mom and Dad.

“You never know what people are capable of doing,” Piero said. “We’ve never jumped in the dark. We always have a plan…we’re not trying to have Naomi do what we think; we just want what’s best for her and her life. We will go through it. We will support her.”

“In her hard work and determination, my job is to make sure she’s going to be okay. If she needs words of wisdom, comfort, or a nice warm hug or kiss, that’s my job as mom,” Nerida added. “This experience for me has allowed me to step back as a mom and not be so momma bear and protective. I realize that she is able. She’s able.”