An Old Fashioned Italian Christmas
With Dreams of a White Christmas generating more headache and heartache than smiles this year, I am devoting my weekend blog to my days growing up in Philly. How I long for a return of those simple Christmas days of yester-year!
As I take you on this nostalgic ride my aim along the way is to weave in my love for weather, hockey and especially my mom.
If you are looking for the most vivid (pungent) memory Italians have of Christmas, it is the Christmas Eve tradition of seven different fishes on the dinner table. From the smelts to the calamari (squid in marinara sauce) and from the bacalla (cod fish) to the scallops, sun down dinner on Christmas Eve was a truly fishy affair. The house stunk, truly all afternoon long, and mom’s yearly admonition held true…”if you don’t like the smell, go outside and play”!
The seven fish represented the seven sacraments of the Catholic religion and it was mandatory that you sample all 7. There was no meat on the table on this festive night. Dinner was preceded by a family prayer, yours truly the orator elect!
Together with my mom’s siblings, uncles Al and Tony (whom I am named after), aunts Theodora, Mary and Nina and their families, the dinner table scene was right out of the movie the God Father! There were bibs (for the adults included), flasks of wine and of course that crusty Italian bread from Sarconi’s bakery that I still long for.
For dessert, Isgro's , our neighborhood sweets baker, supplied an assortment of mouth watering cannolis, the ricotta my fav!
Now in the 1960s when this tradition was especially treasured in our house, the family meal was planned around the Green Bay Packers football games. That may seem rather odd until you realize that in South Philly we were all Italians who beloved the coach of the Packers, Vince Lombardi.
If the Packers played on Christmas Eve or Christmas day, Vince was granted sainthood and the family meal was given a special dispensation until the Packers had played (and almost always won).
Now after Christmas Eve dinner, we would watch the specials on TV which generally included a host of the great Italian crooners. There were Martin and Sinatra or Como and Martino. Bob Hope was allowed into the house too. We just called him an honorary Italian!
At the stroke of midnight, all rushed to the tree with permission to open one present. My top memories include a chemistry set and my first ever pair of ice skates! Both gifts tell you all you need to know about me. I love science and boy did I love to play ice hockey as a kid.
By the way, I caught Brandon at noon talk about how 1966 had the most snow on the ground Christmas morning here in Appalachia with a half a foot. No wonder, since that same Christmas Eve Nor’easter was the most memorable snowstorm of my youth. Philly was buried with a foot of wind driven, thunder spiced snow.
That next morning we strapped on our boots, walked to church then came back to have our Christmas brunch!
I invite you to share your Christmas memories with me.