Holiday traditions handed down from grandmothers to mothers to daughters are ever-present in kitchens and dining rooms throughout Northeastern Pennsylvania, but there’s something extra-special about how those traditions apply to Christmas Eve.
Jane Sabatelle of Sabatelle’s Market in Pittston can vouch for that.
While the tradition of the Feast of the Seven Fishes on Christmas Eve, which used to follow a period of fasting, is not so prevalent anymore, fish still is popular.
“It’s not so much the Seven Fishes, but we sell the baccala (cod), shrimp,” Sabatelle said.
She said people still buy smelt, and the store’s own breaded haddock, made in the store’s meat deli, is a big seller for the holiday.
“They’ll be buying pans and pans of it,” Sabatelle said. “We get the fresh haddock in. We have our breading that we make up. We fry the haddock and sell it per pound.”
The imported salted baccala is also a big seller this time of year, even though the cooks at home have to soak it for two or three days to get the salt out, she said.
“That’s a big tradition down here in Pittston,” she said. “It comes in a big wooden box. We have to pry it open.”
Once the cod is soaked, it becomes two to three times its size, Sabatelle said.
“We’ve been getting calls about the snails,” she added. “We haven’t been able get them for years. We do sell a lot our homemade kielbasa. People go for that, whether they’re Polish, Italian, Irish, Lithuanian.”
Imported chestnuts also are a popular item for Christmas Eve and Christmas. People roast them to eat by themselves or put them in the stuffing for Christmas dinner.
Kielbasa is popular for Christmas dinner to eat along with turkey or ham. Sabatelle said a lot of people in the Pittston area cook homemade sausage late Christmas Eve.
“Every family seems to have their own traditions,” she said.
Cathy Fusco of Pittston Township remembers those traditions.
“It was always big Christmas Eve as far as the Seven Fishes,” she said.
Her mother would cook up such fish as smelts, octopus, calamari (squid), lobster, shrimp, crab or sometimes cod, as well as linguine with anchovies, garlic and olive oil.
Diane Brewster of Edwardsville said her grandmother made pierogies and split-pea soup for Christmas Eve.
For food blogger Christina Hitchcock, who lives near Moscow in Lackawanna County, ravioli has been a tradition handed down for Christmas Eve or Christmas Day dinners. For the past couple of years, her family has been having the ravioli on Christmas Day. Hitchcock, her mother and other family members make the ravioli themselves.
“It is big group activity,” she said. “I’m usually in charge of the dough.”
They usually make cheese ravioli, with the stuffing consisting of ricotta, eggs, Parmesan and mozzarella cheese, parsley and garlic. When they eat on Christmas Day, they have the ravioli first then turkey.
“Christmas Eve, we usually try to have some fish or seafood,” Hitchcock said. “My dad’s side of the family is Italian. They celebrate the Feast of the Seven Fishes.”
The ravioli tradition also was passed down from her dad’s mother, who would get up at 4 a.m. to make them.
“She would make them for every holiday,” Hitchcock said. “Even Thanksgiving. We’d have to eat them, then the turkey.”