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After coming back from Mass this afternoon, we set about to make our little Christmas Eve feast. A little of this, a little of that. We can’t do all fish because of Tim’s allergies and Tom’s gout, but we always have our baccala salad that reminds me of Christmas with Grandma Caruso and crab cakes. To that we added a little shrimp cocktail, roasted hot peppers, stuffed mushrooms, pork dumplings and homemade bread. Probably the best part of the meal this year though was the fact that I had my men with me to celebrate. Thinking of those who weren’t as lucky. It’s really who you spend the time with that matters, not what you do with the time.
We had a good Christmas Eve and I hope that you all did as well. Merry Christmas!
December is a month of holidays, eating and traditions– I don’t think that anyone would disagree with me on that. The holiday season can turn even the most cynical of people into those that fawn over a family tradition — or food — or activity.
Over the past few weeks on Facebook, my cousins have been discussing my grandmother’s and their great-grandmother’s recipe for meatballs, homemade pasta and sauce. They have been going back and forth with one of my male cousins and my brother over the recipes, trying to pin down the taste that we all remember so well but don’t all know how to make.
Isn’t it funny how the holidays evoke a special food or a meal that you remember from your youth? For me, Christmas is and will always be associated with antipasto (my dad’s favorite) and baccala salad on Christmas Eve. For my husband, it is his grandmother’s cookies made from leftover pie dough and boiled onions. No holiday was complete unless my Aunt Mary brought the pies (chocolate cream, pumpkin, lemon meringue and apple) which always graced our holiday table. My siblings and I still are trying very unsuccessfully to replicate Aunt Mary’s stuffing — each year one of us tries and each year we agree that it is missing something.
When we are young, we often summarily dismiss our grandparents (or if we’re lucky) great-grandparents when they try to show us something or we just don’t get the recipe since it is “a pinch of this, a little of that” – empty of any concrete measurements and never, ever written down — only memorized in the mind of someone who we usually take for granted until they and their food are no longer with us and we yearn for both.
There are traditions that each of us have, particularly as they surround food, that bring back fond memories. Some of us cook the same foods for each holiday — well, because that is the way we grew up and that is what comes to mind when we think of Christmas.
For my family, Christmas has taken on my different transformations through the years — depending a lot on who was there, or more appropriately, no longer there, to share it with. When I was very young, my grandparents lived downstairs from us and Christmas was a big holiday. The whole family on my mom’s side came to my grandparents for Christmas. My Grandma Caruso made sauce, bracciole, meatballs, sausage and homemade pasta. I remember the pasta making because us kids were the ones tasked with transporting the freshly made pasta onto the clean sheets that were placed on the top of every bed in the house, in order to lay the pasta out to dry. There was homemade chicken soup and of course, antipasto. I remember all that clearly, but the main course, well — after we got done with the antipasto, the soup and the pasta, the main course didn’t get much notice until later for sandwiches or snacking, somewhere after everyone found it in their bellies to have room for the variety of nuts, oranges, grapes and italian pastries that found their way onto the dinner table for dessert.
Then, after my grandfather became sick and eventually passed on, Christmas was a little quieter, since the whole family didn’t gather together anymore and everyone celebrated with their own families and children. That is when I really remember the antipasto, it took center stage at my house and the meal downsized just a bit. Christmas Eve however was still full of fish — we had the eel, the smelts, the baccala salad as long as my grandmother was still alive.
As we got older and Santa took less of a center stage, Christmas Eve became the bigger of the celebrating — still with the fish dishes and with Christmas Eve Midnight mass and presents afterwards. There was still a lot of eating going on–after all opening all those presents makes you hungry and baccala salad is just as good at 2 a.m. as it was a 7 or 8 p.m.
Now, that my grandparents and my dad are all gone, and we all have families of our own, Christmas has been reinvented once again. I have to admit that I have not made an antipasto since my dad died. It just didn’t seem right — although I’m trying to get over that. We often say that Christmas is not the same since he passed, because he was probably the biggest kid and loved Christmas as much, if not more, than any of us actual kids.
Now in our reinvented Christmas, we have some traditions surrounding food and the holidays of our own here at the T’s house– a blend of both of us, with enough of our past to carry our heritage forward for our boys. We have baccala salad on Christmas Eve and I have to say that Tom’s dad is my biggest compadre in the eating of it. I make bread and cinnamon buns which our own own food twist. If I can find it, we have blue cheese spread inside celery that Tom’s grandmother used to make and boiled onions with our dinner on Christmas day, which is usually a rib roast with mashed potatoes and gravy. There is pie, but no longer the sky high pies that Aunt Mary was famous for — no Italian pastries that aunts and uncles brought with them.
I often try to explain to Tom — an only child who grew up with relatively quiet holidays consisting of his parents, grandparents (and some relatives who would stop in for a visit) that the holidays in my world have always been chaotic –lots of people, lots of noise, lots of food and lots of laughter and from the early days –PoKeNo.
Quiet just wasn’t a word that we associated with Christmas at my grandparents’ and parents’ houses — how could it be when Christmas Eve or Christmas Day could easily be upwards of 35 or 40 people, a good portion of which were children and all were related? Even if we just have “family” now (meaning my siblings, their families and our parents) that is almost 20 people!
As I get older, I realize just how important all that “stuff” that I couldn’t have cared about as a kid really is — it is the basis of tradition and family and is a very big part of who we are. To have one of those raucous, loud, cramped Christmases with all of my family and extended family, both my parents and my grandparents would be a dream come true. Alas, it will never happen again because a good many of those people are no longer with us. The way to keep the memories of those we love alive is through tradition–carrying forward those same things that we have always done. Be it the same foods, the same activities or the same type of celebrations.
During December I thought that it would be fun (and therapeutic) to recreate some of those recipes and some of those memories and to memorialize for my own family some of our own traditions and recipes so that maybe, just maybe, someday when they really care, those things will be there for my boys to share with their families keeping the memories of Grandma Caruso, Nan Dotson, Nanny Smith, Aunt Mary and my dad alive for generations to come.
I truly love Christmas. I couldn’t put my finger on exactly why. Maybe it’s because it reminds me of my dad, who absolutely loved Christmas. He was by far the biggest kid in our house come Christmas time. Each year, we can’t celebrate Christmas without thinking about him and remembering how much I miss him.
Maybe it’s because I love the Christmas music and it’s one of my favorite times in church. At the end of tonight’s service, the lights were turned out, the candles lit and everyone sang “Silent Night”.
Maybe it’s just the company of family and friends — and looking back on how lucky I am to be surrounded by such wonderful people and have them a part of my life. We are reminded this time of the year of those people that we might not see often, but remain near and dear to our hearts. We’re reminded of those with whom we’ve shared holiday memories during the years gone by. We’re lucky and blessed to have such wonderful friends and family.
Maybe, it’s the music — traditional Christmas music reminds me of Christmas parties at my grandmother’s house — we kids got to choose the music and play it on her stereo turntable, which was one of those large consoles that was a chunk of furniture in and of itself. While the adults were in the other room talking and laughing, we were playing music, lots of Christmas music.
Maybe it’s because it reminds me of some of the best times I’ve spent with my husband in the years that he was selling Christmas trees including the final weeks leading up to just after Christmas almost 20 years ago, when we got married.
Maybe it is all of those things wrapped into one. Christmas and Christmas Eve were always a chaotic mix of family, friends, presents, food, music and love. I hope that it remains that way for my boys and they can one day look back and remember how special Christmas is.
I hope that it is just as special for you …. Merry Christmas from our family to yours.
We are lucky, very lucky indeed. Tonight we were fortunate to spend Christmas Eve with both family and dear friends and their families. Our three families, all neighbors decided that we would share Christmas Eve dinner together. So we gathered with our families and our extended families. The Conover family was kind enough to host the event. We, thirteen adults and ten children, gathered and ate and laughed and shared stories from our pasts and our presents and just enjoyed each other’s company. It was fun, it was different and it was a feast.
I promise pictures as soon as I can secure them…I was camera-less this evening.