The Arrival of The Beaujolais Noveau
The holiday season officially begins for us on the third Thursday of November when the beaujolais noveau wine arrives from France.
To celebrate the arrival of this light, fruity and festive wine that’s only availability in limited quantities during the holiday season, we throw a small party for some close friends who appreciate fine wines. We usually serve an assortment of cheeses along with fruit, shrimp, smoked salmon, french bread, crackers and pastries. Once we’ve tasted this year’s vintage, the Christmas season has officially started.
The Christmas Tree Party
Putting up and decorating the Christmas tree is a reason for celebration in our household. Generally, the tree goes up on the Saturday night nearest to December 1st. Why December 1st? We just decided that arbitrarily as a good date for putting up the tree.
The tree is put up and the lights are strung on the tree late in the afternoon and the family then decorates the tree. When the guests arrive, the tree is not unlit and the room is illuminated only by candles around the room. After having cocktails and appetizers the big moment arrives … we turn on the tree lights and toast the tree, the holiday season and one another with champagne. It’s just our way of celebrating our tree which is always more beautiful than any other. Even the world’s most famous tree in Rockefeller Center pales by comparison
Our family was never much for fruit cakes, but we go crazy over homemade Christmas butter cookies. Baking them is a family affair and can take all day and well into the evening. After the kids are gone, mommy and daddy keep out one tin of cookies and hide the rest in a place only we know … otherwise over 600 cookies would be eaten in a single day. Even the dog loves cookies and goes around the house trying to sniff out where they’re hidden. Thank God we don’t have a blood hound who could really find them!
Holiday Egg Nog
It wouldn’t be Christmas in our house without egg nog and lots of it. We take a fairly traditional approach to eggnog eggs, cream, nutmeg, brandy plus about a dozen other secret ingredients. Of course, we make both an alcoholic and non-alcoholic version … the “adult” version is stored in liquor or wine bottles and the “child-friendly” version in plastic soda bottles.
We drink egg nog throughout the holiday season, but it is only on Christmas Eve that it is presented in a crystal punch bowl and served in all its splendor, garnished with freshly ground nutmeg.
Christmas Eve Open House
Our Christmas eve open house is probably one of our most cherished traditions. The patriarchs on both my mother’s and father’s side of the family all agreed that Christmas eve was a night everyone should be welcome in our home for good times, good food and drink and good fellowship. Their reasoning was very profound and very simple … we should never be like the innkeepers in Bethlehem on the first Christmas eve and turn anyone away.
On Christmas eve our house is brightly lit, the door is unlocked and friends, neighbors and relatives know they’re welcome to drop in to spend a few minutes, a few hours or the entire evening. Our family has always believed that nobody should ever be alone on Christmas eve.
The 7 Fish
In Italian Catholic households, eating 7 fish on Christmas eve is a tradition. Some families make a pasta dish with 7 different fish in the sauce. It’s a tradition in our home to make 7 individual fish entrees because many people have very selective seafood tastes or shellfish allergies … this way they can eat all 7 or pick and choose. The fish we usually serve are baccala (dried cod fish), eel, calamari, clams, scungilli, pulpo (octopus) and sea bass. To accompany the fish … and to have plenty of food for non-fish eaters, we serve 7 pasta dishes also … ravioli, linguine, tortellini, penne, gnocchi (small potato pasta), angel hair and fettucini.
It’s a feast fit for king … which is why we celebrate Christmas to begin with.
Midnight mass is the most beautiful of all Christmas traditions. With our stomachs full of the 7 fish and pasta, we head off to church to get our spirits equally nourished. Christmas caroling starts at 11:00 pm … sometimes even earlier in the choir performs Handel’s Messiah.
Midnight mass at almost every church is standing room only so it pays to get there early and get good seats.
When we return home at about 2:00 am, we usually each exchange one present, leaving the rest until morning.
Talking To Our Animals
Legend has it that animals can talk on Christmas eve for a brief moment. We are told they were given this gift from the Christ child to thank them for keeping him warm on the first Christmas eve. On Christmas eve, we give our pets extra- attention and affection for all they do for us throughout the year. We cook them a special meal, hug them and listen very carefully to hear what they have to say.