I grew up in an Italian/Irish household. That meant Christmas Eve dinner was usually a mouth-watering feast of seafood delights and culinary delicacies. Antipasto (a wonderful assortment of meats, cheeses, and vegetables), shrimp fra diavolo, fried calamari, breaded flounder, baked scallops, homemade rice balls, and, of course, pasta. Lots and lots of pasta. Dessert was even better with 7-layer rainbow cookies, cannolis, and cappuccino.
All of our extended family would arrive around 7:00 p.m. We’d sit around drinking wine or sparkling cider and eating antipasto while watching a Yule log burn on TV. The air was filled with Dean Martin and Johnny Mathis holiday tunes. And the kids clustered around the tree shaking boxes and trying to figure out what was in them.
Dinner started around 10:00 p.m. – and, as at every family event, we had an adult table and a kids’ table (with the “kids” ranging in age from toddler to 18 years old!). The food and conversation was savored for hours. We’d reminisce about the past, and poke fun at Uncle “Joe” (you know, that quirky relative that every family has). And we’d laugh until our faces turned as red as the wine.
Finally, the magical moment of midnight arrived. The kids moved like a swarm of bees from the table to the tree – waiting for “the word” to start opening their gifts. Then they were off like the start of the Kentucky Derby, ripping open their beautifully wrapped gifts and checking to see who got what. Mom, Dad, aunts and uncles watched with glee as each child seemed to get exactly what they’d wished for.
And then – just when you’d think it was all over – there were the stocking stuffers. We’d run over to the stair rail where we’d hung our stockings and find lots of goodies stuffed neatly inside (usually chocolates, jewelry, and other small trinkets).
Things started to wrap up around 2:00 a.m., and we all went to sleep with full bellies and full hearts.
When we awoke on Christmas morning, there were no stockings to ransack or gifts to open. But there were plenty of new things to play with all day long… with one caveat: We had to wait until we got back from church.