Christmas has always been a special time for my family. My mother, Martha, would begin to decorate the house early in December. She respected and was devoted to the religious aspect of the season but I think it was the coming together of family that was most important. December 5, 1981, I went to my mother’s house with my six month old son. I was helping her decorate her Christmas tree. She loved the tree in A & S Department Store on Fulton Street in Brooklyn, with clusters of colored glass balls and she would copy the idea. She said that Christmas always brought back memories of her father who passed away many years before in December. Her mother said that it was important to continue traditions even if it was with a heavy heart because that was a sign of respect and love for the person who passed who would want life to continue with the inclusion of the memory of the loved one. Her words were prophetic. Ten days later my mother was hit by a car and died. I took her words about her father to heart. As an Italian American family we always celebrated Christmas Eve as our big holiday, eating fish since it was a no meat fasting day, having Santa pop in to bring a tiny gift to children with a reminder to be good because he would be back when we were sleeping, awaiting the birth of the Christ child, and ending with midnight Mass. The meal was endless with all sort of seafood, even smelts, eel, stuffed squid in sauce, octopus, linguine and clams. No one I knew ever called it the Feast of Seven Fishes. It was lots and lots of fish and then more. Luckily I married an Irish American man. My mother included his family in the Christmas Eve dinners and we would go to his family on Christmas Day. It all worked out perfectly. After my mother died, my mother-in-law very kindly offered to have everyone to her house for desert on Christmas Eve. I appreciated her offer but I knew what I had to do. My mother’s words hung in my head and in my heart. I had to prepare the most elaborate Christmas Eve dinner to honor my mother. I was 29 and just getting the hang of cooking, let alone preparing a meal like this. I watched my mother clean the squid and get splattered with ink. Would I be able to do it? I don’t know how I did but I managed to put together a wonderful feast and it has gotten better and larger every year. I now have four adult children, their spouses, and six grandchildren. We have added other joyous Christmas Eve activities to honor others who have passed. We still have the Irish family who can’t believe they eat octopus and Santa still comes. We have an assortment of friends. Now we attend mass early in the evening before the festivities. So things change a little, but we always end the meal with Struffoli, delicate deep fried dough balls covered in honey and colored sprinkles. This is my family’s favorite time together celebrating the birth of Christ, and Family. And I submit a favorite recipe. Fish salad. The recipe comes from my uncle Vin who created a cook book of his delicious recipes. I submit this recipe with love of all that Christmas represents and to Family and fiends that we are able to share this joyous time with.
Place lobster in a large pot of boiling water to which has been added a tablespoon of salt. Allow to boil for seven or eight minutes. Place pot in sink and allow to cool gradually by running cold water in it.
When cool, remove lobster from pot, crack and remove meat from the body, claws, and tail. Dice and place in a large bowl. Store in the refrigerator.
Shell and devein the shrimp. Cook in salted, boiling water for five minutes or until cooked. Cool gradually – same as lobster- and add it to the lobster.
Clean the squid or but cleaned squid. Cut into rings about a quarter inch wide. Also use the tentacles. Cook in boiling salt water for about five minutes or until cooked. Cool as the lobster then add to the bowl.
Place the octopus in boiling salted water for one hour. Remove the tentacles. Throw out the center eye. Remove the skin. Slice into quarter inch slices and add to the other fish.
Add one can of sliced scungilli. Not always easy to find alive or partially cooked scungilli.
Add crab meat or imitation crab.
Add all the other ingredients. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight. Stir occasionally. Adjust lemon, oil, hot pepper, and garlic to taste. Enjoy with Italian bread. We double or triple the recipe for 25 people. It becomes breakfast on Christmas morning with zeppoli.