As I got up this morning I went straight for the fridge for something to eat and picked up some leftover sausage from the night before. Just as I was about to pop it in my mouth I remembered that it's Christmas Eve and no meat today. I quickly picked up the whole plate and dumped it in the food recycling bin. After all, it's easier to remove temptation should we forget later.
In a little while I will make the pizza dough for the zzippuli that we will eat at lunch this afternoon. These Zeppole are not the pastry like ones we eat on Saint Joseph's day - instead the Christmas Zeppole are pizza dough, with potatoes mixed in the dough and can be stuffed with small anchovies (my favourite) and deep fried into doughnut like fritters. We usually eat them hot as my mother makes them, standing around the kitchen and talking and today, like every Christmas Eve, we all head out to my parents to prepare for the day
Once we finish frying, and eating the Zeppole, and a large plate is put on the table to be enjoyed throughout the day, we begin cooking dinner. As we prepare for the Feast of the Seven Fishes the kitchen becomes a flurry of activity as we await Vigilia di Natale, or rather, the birth of Baby Jesus at midnight. This has always been an important event at my parents house and a tradition very common in Southern Italy. While it is common to prepare seven types of fish my mother always made sure there were at least 13 dishes of food on the table which she did not clear from the table until the following morning. Before Dad got sick, everyone would head out to church after dinner returning hours later as we stopped and talked to friends and neighbours.
At midnight, Dad takes the Baby Jesus figurine he keeps nearby and places him in the manger of the presepio he lays out each each year. The Nativity scene he has usually takes up a large portion of the front yard, as he made almost each piece himself many years ago after being diagnoised with cancer the first time and gives thanks. It truly is beautiful and is stopped and admired by many as they walk by the house.
Now, since we are Italian we traditionally open our gifts from my family on Christmas Eve and have since I can remember. Usually my father hands out the presents as the kids sit around eagerly awaiting their gifts from Santa. Depending on the amount of gifts this can take a while as wrapping paper and bows fly everywhere (Dad being the biggest kid of them all) and the adults run around cleaning up and picking on the Pizzelles and Scallili and other treats laid out on the table.
As we head home the kids usually fall asleep in the car even though they swear they are staying up all night. Once home they go straight to bed as we drag in all the gifts. My husband places them all under the tree and this is when he places the many secret gifts he buys in the stockings and under the tree before he goes to bed himself.
Christmas morning always seems to come way too early as the kids get up and want to open their gifts. After an hour or more of this I make breakfast and the phone calls to family and friends begin. Sometimes we're lucky enough to lay down again for a while before we get ready to head back out to my sister's for Christmas dinner. By the time dinner is over and we leave to come home it's quite late and everyone is totally exhausted . Every year we swear next year will be different - and every year we do the same thing again. And honestly I wouldn't want it any other way.
Merry Christmas everyone!