feast of fishes

well, finally, it’s christmas eve—my favorite day of the year, in terms of food. i love thanksgiving, but not for the food. for me, this is the best food holiday.

all that knitting i’ve been doing?
just something to do while i wait for this night to arrive. i used the time well, thinking about what i’d make while i knit away, planning how i’d fix this or that, and what i should do when so as to have the meal done AND enjoy our guests.

i got up early (but not too) and did a few things around the house to finally get the holiday in gear. i dunno why, but for me, christmas week is the real kickoff of the season, and starting too early doesn’t do it justice. preferably, the tree goes up on the 23rd, but since we now have an artificial tree, it has been up for longer. david surprised me one night by putting it up while i was at class. as i rode my bike down the last hill, i could see our lights and our tree winking in the windows—that was really cool. i’m such a kid.

but then, it never got decorated.
yeah, i just couldn’t get into it. so today i opened the boxes of ornaments and got going.
i trimmed the tree

and got the toys arranged around the bottom

i love these guys! all the characters from “rudolph”, my favorite christmas show growing up.
there’s a big package under the tree with my name on it—i can’t WAIT to see what’s inside, but since i love surprises, i will wait til christmas morning to find out . . .

the stockings got hung

these are socks i knit way back in the 90s, for the book knitting in america. they were designed by nancy bush, and illustrated how different a color pattern could look when worked with the same colors switched around. they didn’t make it into the book, but another pair i knit from the same pattern did.

i cleared the coffee table of all the knitting muck

my knitting was calling, but i was good.
anyway, there was tons more to do before evening.

Christmas Eve was traditionally a day of “fasting” for catholics. but of course, the words italian and fasting, really do not belong together in any sentence. and those wonderful italians, well, they found a way around that rule.

and oh, what a workaround it is!
all my life, my family celebrated this night with feasting. the feast of the seven fishes is our christmas eve tradition, along with millions of oither italians, and italian-americans.

actually, i found this article in the pittsburgh post-gazette that explains the christmas eve feast perfectly—it pretty much tells it verbatim the way my mother would explain it.

Italy celebrates Christmas Eve with the Feast of the Seven Fishes, a meatless meal honoring the wait, La Vigilia de Natale, leading up to the midnight birth of the baby Jesus. Meatless it is, but joyless it isn’t.

Centuries have refined this triumphal but homey cavalcade of seafood dishes that draws on the bounty of the Boot’s long coastline and fuels a boisterous party over many hours among family and friends. The seven fishes used in the celebration are popularly thought to reflect the seven sacraments of the Catholic Church, or some say that it symbolizes the seven days it took our lord to create the world.

The components are age-old. Choose any seven: anchovies and sardines, dried salt cod and eels, squid and octopus, shrimp, mussels, oysters and clams. And there are plenty of pasta and vegetable dishes, finishing always with the family’s signature sweets and, until recently, a walk to midnight Mass.

The buildup to this holiday is year-long, and the offerings at this meal often include components the family has produced through the year from the garden, the dairy, and the oven. It is a meal that is anticipated with relish all the year through as a reward for hard work and good living.

i find it fascinating, comforting, and a source of joy that people all over the world, who are somehow linked to italy in some way, are gathering pretty much the same way on this one night.

every year i cook some kind of meal for christmas eve that is tied to my family history. in NYC, we would have a gathering of friends and offer the ritual dinner to them. or, i would head home to be with my family.

for the past few years, being somewhat new to this area, david and i celebrated alone. but this year, we are having friends in once again who have not been party to this meal before.

i started friday afternoon with a trip to the italian grocery to pick up a list of ingredients. when i got home, i set the bacala (salt-dried codfish) to soak.

yesterday, i made the calamari sauce

and the pan-fried smelts

and pulled some stuffed peppers out from the freezer that i’d earmarked for this dinner

i did fit in a little knitting last night. i started a london beanie for my 14-year-old nephew

in mission falls 1840 wool, which is a long-time favorite yarn—mmm.
and worked on another black mitt

for this pair i stuck with the ribbed cuff—i decided that it was a good choice, and since i had one whole mitt done this way, less ripping and re-knitting for me.

then, this afternoon i did the finishing-up for the dinner party. the antipasti are prepared and marinating; the flavors should be extraordinary by dinnertime.

the bacala is waiting on the back porch (my second fridge in winter) ready to go into the oven

all that’s left is for our guests to arrive. then we’ll break bread, boil pasta, and raise a glass.
tutti a tavalo a mangare—salut!

14 Responses to “feast of fishes”

  1. Karen B. says:

    A beautiful homage to family and tradition, reinvented to fit as you are today.

    Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you and yours!

  2. Man, that sounds good. I got quite hooked on bacalao when we visited Barcelona… mmmm. And all the other yummies. I just got back from a great sushi dinner, but now I’m hungry again!

    May you all enjoy.

  3. janet says:

    Ann the feast looked beautiful. I am dying over her. I wanted to just pick up a smelt right thru the computer. No one in the family cooks smelts since my uncle passed. When I get back to class, could you please tell me how to do it and I will surprise my famly next year. I think I saw clementines and olives. My hubby can never understand that we have sliced oranges with olive oil and salt. Yummy. Your knitting has astounded me. I knitted 2 gifts and I was scurring at the last minute. Can’t wait to get back to class. Merry Christmas

  4. Tatyana says:

    Happy Christmas! More creative successes, beautiful things and excellent photos.

  5. Carole says:

    We have friends who also celebrate this feast on Christmas Eve. At our house, Christmas Eve is all about being Swedish. We have meatballs and pickled herring and wasa crackers and Swedish rye bread and medwurst. Mmmm.
    Merry Christmas, Anne.

  6. LaurieM says:

    Sounds just awesome! Yum. I prepare for the Christmas day feast well in advance, and I know the pleasure of scheming up a menu that is tasty and pretty to look at, but that can be prepared a head of time.

    I hope you had a wonderful Christmas Eve dinner and that there’s something nice in the box.

    Merry Christmas!

  7. liz says:

    Oh man, that’s looks marvelous. I love bacala. Brandade especially is one of my favorite dishes.

    We had our traditional chili – a fairly traditional WASP Christmas Eve dinner in Texas. Most of our culinary traditions are based on New Year’s Day. You have to have black eyed peas for luck (most New Year’s Eve parties – even in fancy restaurants, offer something with black eyed peas) and greens for money. I usually fix either beet greens or chard.

  8. Kim says:

    Ohmygosh….i LOVED Rudolph when I was a kid!!! The Abominable Snowman dude was my total fave….. I love how you have all those guys under your tree!!!

  9. Daphne says:

    hurrah! Happy Christmas to you & David.

  10. LornaJay says:

    What a lovely tradition. Any chance of sharing a few recipes – I’d love to co-opt at least some into our own celebration?

    Merry Christmas!
    from a damp, soggy, Scotland

  11. Juno says:

    I had that realization this year, that part of my problem getting into the holiday mood was that it all starts so early and is so crowded and loud that it makes me want to hide from it. But beginning Saturday it started to fall into place with the real beginning of celebration and people started to calm down and focus more internally on their families and friends and the ways each celebrate.

    It was very nice to discover it wasn’t lost, that mid-winter spirit, just waiting for the right moment.

    Merry Christmas Anne.

  12. stacey says:

    it all looks wonderful! such a feast! it’s great you have friends to celebrate with this year….

    I have the same little characters from Rudolph! Hermie is my favorite….

  13. marti says:

    yum! no wonder you love this feast, it looks absolutely devine! I hope you had a great holiday.

  14. Monica says:

    I heard about the feast of fishies just a few days ago, our receptionist celebrates it with her family.

    Happy Holidays!