Christmas Eve Traditions
I can see it in my mind’s eye as clear as if it was in front of me. A large bowl that was white on the inside and pink on the outside. Recently I learned it was probably Pyrex. To me, I knew it was Christmastime when I saw that bowl appear in the kitchen.
What was so special about this bowl you ask? It was only used by my Grandma once per year. It had a single purpose. It prepare the smelly fish for Christmas Eve. It was all about baccala and smelts. It had been used for so many years, it would forever had a smell that wouldn’t leave, no matter how hard you scrubbed. Therefore, its purpose was well-defined.
Did we ever do exactly seven fishes? I’m really not sure. I know it was my favorite meal of the entire year. Cold seafood salad, shrimp scampi, clam sauce, and of course, smelts and baccala, were among the hits. That scampi was so good I would usually have it for breakfast the next morning. It was Italian food heaven.
The year I was engaged, I spent my first Christmas Eve in a different household. I was sad, but I knew this is what getting married was all about; compromise. My mother asked me if I wanted to eat before I left or if I wanted her to save me a plate. “Why?” I never even considered anyone would have anything else.
I quickly learned why she asked.
Dinner included prime rib, mashed potatoes, vegetables and other typical formal meal options. I sat down with a feeling of panic inside. What was I going to eat? I couldn’t be rude and sit with an empty plate. But I wasn’t going to go against what I’ve done my entire life and eat meat on Christmas eve. I decided to stick with the basics; salad, mashed potatoes, and veggies.
The mashed potatoes were covered in brown gravy (meat) and there was even pepperoni in the salad. I put a few items in my plate and pushed them around. There were lots of children and I offered to keep an eye on the kids so the parents could eat as an “extra Christmas present.”
Half-way through dinner, a cousin noticed my plate and said, “you don’t eat meat on Christmas Eve, do you?” I sheepishly said, “it’s OK.” Someone else said, “well, she’ll be married soon, so she’ll learn she’ll need to give up that idea.”
Oh. Absolutely. Not.
I called my mother half-way through dinner and asked her to save me a plate.
Every year after that, Christmas Eve became my Alamo. I ate before I left and picked at what I could. Try to force me to do something. Good luck. Anyone who knows me isn’t surprised I wasn’t going to give in.
To me, it was more than just not eating meat. It was tradition. It was how I was raised. It was my heritage. It was that pink bowl.
You just don’t give that up.
Eventually, we moved Christmas Eve back to my family. I’m not sure what happened to that pink bowl. I wish I had it, but I have it’s memory, and that’s just as important.