Buon Natale!! The Christmas Season is truly the merriest time of year for my family. Growing up in an Italian American family at Christmas was magical. Christmas Eve was the star of the season. Traditionally we would gather to celebrate The Feast of the Seven Fishes or "Festa dei Sette Pesci." Fish only is to be served. This tradition honors the seven sacraments or seven virtues of Catholicism. The number 7 is biblically recognized hundreds of times. This tradition is celebrated among southern Italians, as my family is from Bari and Napoli.
Growing up I remember after my Dad, mom and three sisters and I celebrated Christmas in Bowie, Maryland, we would drive to New York to celebrate with our relatives - aunts, uncles, grandparents and cousins. We would visit Queens, Brooklyn and Long Island and the city for a Christmas Show and tree lighting. This was forever ingrained in my spirit and pride in being Italian. Oh the bread, oh the Italian bakeries, oh the homemade sauce and smell of garlic! No one does Christmas like New Yorkers - especially Italian New Yorkers. From the embellished decorations and lights to the abundant food and lavish celebrations. We grew up with the Rockettes, the tree at Rockefeller Center and the Christmas spirt of Queens and Brooklyn every year.
Walking into my grandparents home I would be welcomed by the smell of garlic and homemade gravy. My grandmothers dining room table was piled high with trays of my favorite Italian cookies: honey balls; little crescent cookies; jelly cookies; biscotti and pizzelles. My cheeks would be pinched by my Aunt Annette just in time to sneak in some of her stromboli while my grandparents paced around the kitchen stove critiquing the sauce, debating when the sausage should go in and how long to cook the meatballs.
The reverence of the holiday, the respect of the food, and the long-time traditions being served with such passion behind every celebration was a code of honor to be carried on for generations to come. We were Italian and this is how Christmas was to be celebrated - ALWAYS. Oh, and the presents! But yet, the presents I remember the least - We were the gift. Family, tradition and being together was the true gift on Christmas.