Mariah Lynne Author
Each year, as I unwrap precious ornaments from my childhood, I am reminded of family holidays and traditions past. My father immigrated to the US from Naples, Italy. I find it ironic that I now live twenty minutes from Naples, Florida. Southern Italians especially Neapolitans begin their holiday on Christmas Eve with a very special meal, The Feast of The Seven Fishes.
Growing up in New Jersey, I remember my mother and father taking me to my Aunt Maggie’s (Michelina’s) on Christmas Eve to celebrate with cousins, aunts and uncles. As we walked through light snow, past bushes filled with colored lights, to climb the two steps up to her back door, aromas of fresh bread, sauces, and homemade desserts greeted us from her kitchen. Once everyone arrived, we gathered in her dining room.
Laughter, homemade wine and animated conversations soon filled the room. An ecru lace tablecloth crocheted by my grandmother covered her long dining room table. Red Poinsettias and a special paper mache nativity from Italy decorated her mahogany sideboard. All the children gasped when we saw her Christmas tree with all the colorful packages underneath through the doorway to her living room. She always had a present for each of her nieces and nephews to open after dinner.
This night was very special. All of our problems were left at the door. Only love and happy thoughts of Christmas filled the minds of guests eagerly anticipating dinner, not just any dinner, but a dinner to remember. My Aunt and grandmother cooked all day. My mother brought her homemade biscotti, some almond, some anise, to serve for dessert with the homemade cannoli (pastry). Soon, the oohs and aahs were so loud they could be heard on the street. My Aunt and Uncle carried in the china platters of food. The Feast of The Seven Fishes was about to begin. The menu was the same each year: calamari, baccala (salt cod), clams with linguini, crab (a N.J. delicacy) in a tomato sauce with angel hair pasta, anchovies, baked flounder, and shrimp cooked in olive oil with lemon butter.
I’ve watched the Feast presented on the cooking channel by professional chefs, but believe me when I say that none could ever compare with Aunt Maggie’s labor of love. Living by the sea, I keep the tradition of serving fresh seafood on Christmas Eve. Not as big as the Feast but one that fits our smaller gathering: New England Clam Chowder, Baked stuffed shrimp or Shrimp Scampi, Parmesan Crusted Grouper and of course I bake my mother’s homemade biscotti.
Here’s my recipe for Shrimp Scampi! Ingredients: 1 POUND OF LARGE SHRIMP (16-20), peeled and de-veined SALT 3 GARLIC CLOVES CHOPPED– OR MINCED (1 TABLESPOON) 2 TABLESPOONS FRESHLY CHOPPED PARSLEY 2 TABLESPOONS OLIVE OIL 3 TABLESPOONS BUTTER ½ CUP WHITE WINE RED PEPPER FLAKES TO TASTE-at least ¼ teaspoon FRESH GROUND PEPPER 1 ½ TABLESPOONS OF LEMON JUICE Heat sauté pan on high. Reduce heat to medium. Add olive oil and butter. The butter should melt, and foam before reducing. At that point, add the garlic, red pepper flakes. Stir until edges of garlic turn brown. Once the garlic cooks, add the shrimp and the white wine. Stir to blend the shrimp with the butter, olive oil and wine while continuing to coat the shrimp with the mixture. Spread the shrimp evenly in the pan before increasing the heat to the highest setting. The wine should boil for 2-3 minutes. Turn the shrimp over so the cooked sides are facing up. Boil the wine for another minute before removing from heat. Add parsley, lemon juice and black pepper. Toss to combine. Salt to taste. Serve over rice or my favorite angel hair pasta.
Enjoy and Happy Holidays! Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Mariah-Lynne/295721153858612
happen next. The large wooden door creaked opened slowly, very slowly. Once open all the way, we gasped!
One Christmas season, a long time ago, I was a little girl who loved her dolls. They had their own outfits, accessories, and some even had their own little beds in my room. I always thought every little girl had at least one doll. All my friends did so I never thought anything different.
It was the Sunday before Christmas and my father took me to church service after Sunday School to see a special choir of children from an orphanage in Rome. They were in the US to visit and perform at several churches along the East Coast.
Some of the families such as mine volunteered to take a child home for dinner. The week before, my mother asked to see a photo of the young lady because she wanted to buy some clothes for her to take home. When I looked at the photo, I saw a skinny eight year named Marianna. We were the same age and the same height. We both had dark curly hair and dark brown eyes. Except for where and how we lived, and the fact that I was chubby, we could have been sisters.
I was excited to have Marianna come for dinner and happy that my mother bought her clothes. After we ate Sunday lunch, I took her into my bedroom to see and play with my toys. Her eyes grew huge and began to tear up. I understood a little Italian enough to get the just of a conversation. She walked over to my window bench where my dolls “lived” and picked one up and hugged it.
The doll named Anna was one of my favorites. Dressed in a pink and white gingham dress, she had blonde hair I could comb. Marianna hugged Anna and refused to let her go. She said she never had a doll before, let alone one as “bella” as this one.
Well I was not a happy camper. I yelled at her, “Let Anna go. That doll is mine.” She refused and asked me to please give Anna to her. That made me more upset. Enough so my father heard me and came in to see what was wrong.
I told him about Anna and how that doll was not going anywhere let alone Rome. He walked over to Marianna and had her give him the doll. He then said in Italian to her that he knew I would be happy to give it to her. After all, I had so much…a good home, loving parents, and so many other dolls. He handed it back to her and she hugged him like he just gave her the world.
I watched in silence at first furious but after a few minutes digested what he said. I never realized how lucky I was. I too went over and hugged Marianna. She taught me a most important lesson about giving and love I will never forget. This holiday season we should all care about those less fortunate and try to help in whatever manner we can.
Best wishes for a happy holiday season. I hope you spend it with family and friends. .
THE CHRISTMAS DOLL