vigilia di natale – christmas evechristmas 2016 – 5
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eve2Christmas Eve is always at my aunt-and-uncle’s. It’s my favorite of the two meals – 24th and 25th – because it’s the most traditional. It’s a fast meal which in old Catholicism meant no meat. The pasta was seasoned with olive oil, garlic and sardines. The fish was always baccalà – cod – in a variety of guises – breaded and fried, un-breaded and fried, baked, in a red-sauce, in olive oil and onions. The vegetables were rapini, and broccoli. There was no leavened bread instead we ate cullurielli, a deep-fried bread dough cooked plain or filled with anchovies.
Most years it’s my aunt-and-uncle, my parents, me, Rose-and-Derrick and my uncle’s 95-year old aunt Teresina. This year Dave, Isabel, Seane and Christian joined us. And like all Italians in Sault Ste Marie, we eat in the basement kitchen. Back in Aprigliano, the meal was very simple, because everyone went out to the town square for the Christmas bonfire. In northern Ontario, the celebrations stay indoors and therefore the meal and its presentation have become more important, more sumptuous, more Canadian.
In the Canadian version, the white anchovy pasta is supplemented with spaghetti in a red calamari sauce; the rapini is displaced by Brussels-sprouts; and the salted baccalà is balanced with shrimp, sea-perch or a fresh fish. The Christmas Eve meal was both a tribute and a celebration of la cucina povera. The meal reflected the poverty into which the Christ child was born. But now, the Italian immigrants celebrate Christmas, by demonstrating the bounty they found in the new world.
There are really two parts to every Christmas meal – the real food and everything after the real food is eaten. And the second set of offerings are just as important as the traditional dishes. Once the pasta, vegetable, salad and fish dishes were collected and put on the counter, my uncle began bringing out the second group of foods. There were fichi d’india – prickly pears, cherries, Abate pears, finocchio – fennel, chestnuts, dried figs, mandarins and tangerines.
The last part of the meal is espresso, the Calabrese Christmas sweets – turdilli, scalille, pitta impigliata – and various liqueurs. (These would normally be served in the upstairs/formal kitchen.) Keeping with the move to modernity, Rose brought up a wonderful berry cheesecake. My uncle brought out two bottles of Anice – one from Cosenza and one from Sardegna. The one from Sardegna, has a silhouette of Queen Ann’s Lace on its label and it tasted soft and less lickerishy. The one from Cosenza is stronger and wonderfully flavored with anice and pear.

Images top to bottom – my uncle and aunt getting the two spaghetti ready   the dining table in the downstairs kitchen
                   the vegetable – Brussels-sprouts, broccoli, and salad   Seane, Dave and my dad   my dad and Christian