As a kid, Christmas eve was my favorite day of the year. In the days leading up to it, I would follow my dad around to the fish mongers and in some cases, right to the docks. My dad was a commercial fisherman in his home country of Italy before coming to America so fresh fish from the right sources was a must.
One of the classic Italian traditions on Christmas Eve is "The Seven Fishes". My father would make a frutta di Mare that was just so incredible that later, when I moved away from home, I would ask him to prepare another tray for me to take home. I would eat this stuff for Breakfast, lunch and Dinner and sometimes in between - Since he passed away, I've never had anything close and most of the time, have never tried to. I must say though, that the DiPalma's have invited me to their home this evening for their version of "The Seven Fishes"; out of my love and respect for them, I won't try to compare.
Christmas eve morning began at the very crack of dawn and I recall waking often to the sound of pans clanging, and mom & dad fighting for space in our small kitchen. I didn't have vivid memories or breakfast, not sure it was every anything special as my parents were really busy but I am sure there were occasionally bagels from the shop up on Nostrand Ave near Ave. V. These were real bagels that so many of you have never had, they were had rolled and boiled - what would be considered "Artisan" by today's standards was just the right way back then.
For me and my sister - and in the very early days, our older brother as well, the anticipation of opening the presents that were under the tree (Santa often delivered our gifts early), there was a time where Santa (George Eckleman) would actually come to visit, and there was an annual visit from the great Ed White with a loaf of the most amazing Italian bread from Caputo's bakery down on Court Street.
On occasion, my brother and I would grab one of the live crabs, name them and race them before returning them to my dad who would later prepare them as part of the feast - my brother and I thought nothing of consuming them even though we had earlier taken them on as pets for a short time; seems so strange but it was so fun.
There were a constant flow of drop-in visits from neighbors, family and friends on their way to other places, and then our actual guests. One of our regular guests was "Uncle" Joe and "Cousin" Maria Lauria. While not blood related, they were in all sense of the word, family and their arrival was always the most anticipated - not just by me and my siblings but by our other cousins that would be there as well. Maria's gifts were always the "best" and most eagerly anticipated - in some cases, even more than Santa's.
We had a tradition of opening those gifts at midnight, because that was when it was actually Christmas and looking back, it must've been an interesting dynamic for the adults to see all these kids running around so far past their bedtime all wired up in anticipation of opening the gifts. As the years went on, there were a few where liberties were taken and we didn't quite wait until the midnight hour.
Such beautiful, fond memories of a time so very long ago.