Christmas Memories and Why Food Matters
Christmas is my favorite time of year and always has been. In spite of many Christmases filled with sorrow and anxiety, which is a legacy of my youth that anyone from a troubled family will understand. But life as we know it is a multi-faceted mystery; joyful one moment, painful the next.
My family's history includes very strong Christmas traditions, (most of them Italian because of my dad, even though my mom was Irish) many of which revolve around what you eat and when, during the holidays. Some of these food traditions were tailored to our family and still continue.
Christmas Eve meant the "Feast of the Seven Fishes" brought a bounty of seafood to our dinner table in the form of linguini with white clam sauce, broiled lobster, shrimp, shrimp or crab cocktails, scallops sauteed in a butter, garlic and marsala sauce, a delicate codfish salad, and a warm escarole salad with anchovies
On Christmas, we almost always had a roast of some sort because Daddy disliked turkey, (which he only put up with on Thanksgiving) various side dishes, and my mom's to-die-for, heavenly aroma, homemade bread. Dessert was usually Daddy's Rice Pie or Strufoli. Both items are our family's versions of traditional southern Italian sweets.
My mom had begun a tradition of making millions of Christmas cookies when we were very small kids. But these weren't just any cookies. Because my parents were very educated, worldly-wise, and cultured, mom made cookies from around the world.
Italian almond macaroons, German Springerle, Scandinavian Spritz cookies, gingerbread, Snowballs (similar to Mexican wedding cakes with chocolate chips), chocolate cut-outs decorated within an inch of their lives, and too many more to mention, showed up on a stacked cookie plate every year. They were also given as gifts.
My parents loved to entertain. They threw remarkable parties. They loved music, singing, and dancing. They also had a penchant for decoration, so we always had gorgeous trees, lighted windows, and adornments beyond compare! They were awfully good at it.
However, they weren't as good at being married people and that unrest quite often seeped into the Christmas holidays like poison, as we and they grew older.
But whenever I think of Christmas, the things that make me smile always begin with the memories of the traditional spicy, savory, enticing aromas, emanating from a warm kitchen. Whatever else happened, there was love baked into the food. You could taste it, you could feel it, you could store it in your heart for a time when events conspired to leave bitterness in its place instead.