You Can't Eat Meat!
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Growing up in an Italian-American family, I was taught that you definitely couldn’t eat meat on Christmas Eve. I’m sure that anyone of Italian descent can relate to the statement that I have just made. It was considered a taboo, a “sin” according the Catholic Church, or so my family believed. It wasn’t until I was in my 30’s that I was made aware of the fact, by non-Italian Catholic friends, that this was never a church law. This is what I now consider an Italian law!

Ever since I could remember, my family, my relatives, and my Italian-American friends always had large seafood dinners on Christmas Eve. Italians considered this night, the Holy Night, to be “THE” holiday, more important than Christmas Day itself. As a child, I remember aunts, uncles, and cousins gathering at my house on Christmas Eve, for we lived in Nanny and Grandpa’s house. My grandmother was a fantastic cook and on this night, her specialty was calamari with spaghetti. There was other fish, such as eels that my grandpa loved, but I refused to eat those slimy, snake-looking things. Besides fish and pasta, there was salad and vegetables. I can almost taste those stuffed artichokes that Nanny used to make. We used to scrape off, with our teeth, the insides of the artichoke leaves and eat that first, then eat the stuffing and the heart. Yum! I loved it. Naturally, there was Italian bread, wine for the adults (well, sometimes we kids drank some red wine mixed in our orange soda), and Italian pastries. How could we possibly celebrate such a joyous occasion without cannoli? But, of course, there was no evidence of any kind of meat at our holiday table.

When my Irish-American co-worker first informed me of the “no-such-church-law” of not eating meat on Christmas Eve, I immediately told my family. It was explained to me that eating seafood on Christmas Eve was an Italian custom and somehow, over the years, it was assumed that meat was forbidden. My grandmother, until her death six years ago, at age 93, could never be convinced that it was okay to eat meat on Christmas Eve, and that it wasn’t a sin. She, along with many old-timers that I know, also refused to accept this fact.

Nanny and Grandpa are no longer with us on Christmas Eve, neither are the cousins, aunts and uncles. Some have died, some have moved away, but mostly the families have grown and everyone celebrates holidays with their immediate family. Our table now consists of my parents, my brother and sister and their families, and, of course, myself. We still eat the calamari, shrimp, mussels and various seafood dishes (no eels), the pasta, vegetables, salad, and desserts, and enjoy our red or white wine; but there is never any meat on our table. It’s certainly not because we believe it’s a sin to do so, it’s just such a traditional thing.

I happen to love the seafood tradition and the importance that is placed on celebrating on Christmas Eve, for I, too, feel that this is the “Holy Night.” The night Jesus was born. I’m also aware that not eating meat is not forbidden or sinful, and if I ever do decide to eat meat on Christmas Eve, I won’t feel guilty, maybe a little strange, though!

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