It has been 20 years since I spent Christmas Eve with my parents and children. My mom died 20 years ago this month, and my dad 3 years later, in the fall of the year. For the first 53 years of my life, with one exception, I spent every Christmas Eve with my parents, a tradition that survived all the twists and turns in my life, until their deaths.
Beforel I married, this festive affair was spent with aunts, uncles, cousins and friends; later it was with my family, as it grew and evolved, surviving a divorce, a new family, and emerging adult children. Year after year, it was arguably the most consistent event in my life.
Like so many Italian-American families, we celebrated the night before Christmas with the incomparable 7 fish dinner, something my father, in spite of his anti-religion views, thoroughly embraced and enjoyed. As for me, I could usually find 3 or 4 dishes on the table that I liked…especially the pasta with anchovies or clams. The shrimp was always good, and the deep fried smelts were OK. The hardest to take was the Bacala…salted Cod that was served in a variety of ways.
A few years ago my wonderful wife worked very hard to recreate that 7 fish menu for a Christmas Eve dinner with friends here in Paducah. I thought she did a great job, but I can understand why, after spending all day in a kitchen full of smelly fish she vowed “never again”. I still consider that an extreme act of love.
Our Christmas Eves are quiet now; the 7 fish diner has been replaced by linguine with anchovies, and if I remember to buy them, a shrimp cocktail. The children now have their own families, and are busy transitioning into new traditions, which is as it should be. I enjoy sitting in our living room with a glass of wine, the lights low, and Christmas music in the background, fondly remembering what was, and looking forward to what will be. Christmas Eve has become a time when I am most intensely aware of how blessed my life has been.