Wednesday, December 24, 2008
A Christmas fish tale...
Growing up, as devout Irish-Italian Catholics, we followed every rule the Church put out there. If they said women had to wear something on their heads in church, we would. And, if we forgot our little chapel veils as we raced out the door to mass, we had no problem wearing a fully opened kleenex on our heads. If the Church said no eating before receiving communion, we did it. It's just the way it was. We didn't ask questions--no one asked why. There had to be a good reason...afterall, it was the Church! And, when it came to Fridays and Christmas Eve--the Church said we could not eat meat. So we didn't. We gorged ourselves on seafood. And, in an Italian household, Christmas Eve was the kingpin of all seafood eating.
As a kid, this no meat eating thing got on my nerves--I was getting pretty sick of fish sticks and tuna with pasta. I had no appreciation for smelts, bacala, shrimp, crab or calamari. So, I asked my father why we couldn't eat meat and he told me it was because it was a form of fasting to show God that we would give up things for Him. Which, of course, was not what I wanted to hear. So, I asked my mother--she said "it had to do with those cafones--the fishermen in Italy. They were going broke because no one was eating their stinking fish! Eh...che peccato! So, they had a sit down with the big consigliere--The Pope. Maybe they did a shakedown. Who knows. Afterward, Our Holy Father said we couldn't eat meat..so we didn't eat meat. And, those facia bruti fishermen...they got rich. Then,they gave the Pope a little taste...you know what I mean? Stugots!" I liked my mom's story much better--she always had a way of bringing her Italian Hill District world to our calm little suburb. Well..I liked it...until she said "but you have to do what the Pope says--or else-- an omerta! You'll be struck down the next time you go to church." True to form--the Irish version (my dad) and the Italian version (my mother). A tinge of guilt with the Irish, a big heaping of fear with the Italians!
And, so, this Christmas Eve--if you sit down to feast on shrimp and crab and all those delectable seafood concoctions--you can decide who was right. My father with his tale of sacrifice or my mother's mafioso story. Which ever it is--it is now tradition. A tradition that makes the house smell of fish and keeps you in the kitchen for hours preparing what ends up being---a Christmas Eve I've come to love. Smelts and all.