2019: 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks – Week 50 (Dec.9 – Dec. 15 ): TRADITION
I “first” joined Amy Johnson Crow’s 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks on its “first” year in 2014… and what a whirlwind year that was… writing, editing and researching daily for 365 days! As much as I wanted to continue the following year, I found that I didn’t have the time to continue another year with that type of research… although I did continue blogging and writing stories at my own pace, which allowed me to write on other topics as well as family stories when ideas came my way… but I’ve often missed it. The first year were no specific weekly prompts like today… but I’m taking a different spin on them. There will be some posts on a specific ancestor, but most will be memories that spring from those prompts. Head over to 2014 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks to read about my ancestors in the first years challenge.
If you’re new to genealogy, make your “first” stop to Amy’s website for genealogy ideas or even join in on this 52 Week challenge… you learn by doing… not procrastinating! There is no right or wrong… anything you do is a start!
I don’t seem to have any memories of family traditions growing up other than a few family reunions and summer BBQ’s where my grandfather cooked his famous barbeque and brunswick stew. There are no memories of special Christmas foods or any holiday traditions.. why do memories escape me? When I think of family traditions, I think of my husband’s family and all the memories they’ve given me for the past 48 years… and that is what I write.
I married into an Italian family full of traditions and a love for holidays!
My first glimpse into family traditions began on Christmas Eve with their traditional holiday foods. An Italian Christmas Eve is like none other… beginning with the serving of the 7 Fishes. While I never understood in the beginning of why 7… the more I read and learned on Italian traditions, I discovered it was because of the Roman Catholic Church… seven are the sacraments, the days of the Creation, as well as the deadly sins. Hence seven courses! There were many foods in the beginning that I wouldn’t touch… and today there’s still a couple like baccala and eel, but there are many more that are now my favorites like the Christmas Eve crab sauce, stuffed shrimp, fried calamari, and fried smelts, and Grandma Minnie’s cold broccoli salad… no one made it better!
My daughter in law with one of the seafood dishes
Both of my husband’s grandparents were Italian… but both had very different Italian traditions and foods. His mother’s side was from southern Italy which is where the Christmas Eve 7 fish dinner is more traditional… his father’s side was from Sicily and never served any of the fish dinner on Christmas Eve. Their tradition on Christmas Eve was Nonni’s homemade pizza… which everyone truly loved.
My husband’s Christmas Eve from a young boy was in visiting both grandparents homes on that one night. The first stop that evening was always at his father’s family home where Nonni would have been in the kitchen all day making dough for the family pizzas that night. I was lucky enough to have enjoyed many years of those family pizza’s… and enjoying them!
After all the family arrived at Nonni’s and enjoyed pizza, you’d soon hear the bells of Santa coming from the cellar stairs and know he had arrived. There were still small cousins when we married and we enjoyed watching them run and scamper to wait for Santa to appear in the living room with his “huge” red sack! I remember my own kids being part of that group later on and how excited they were as their names were called by Santa. It was fun for the adults to look around at all the uncles in the room to see who had disappeared earlier that evening to change into the home-made Santa suit. It was a fun tradition and I hope my children haven’t forgotten those fun holidays.
Even after packing the many presents from Santa at one grandmother’s house… we headed off yet again… to enjoy another Christmas Eve at Grandma Minnies. Both households had large families… which meant several aunts and uncles and even more cousins. I remember being very overwhelmed with so much family when I married my husband… and many times in the beginning it was often difficult to even keep track of names and which family they belonged to; I was an only child and seldom had contact with my cousins… many I’ve never met.
Christmas Eve at Grandma Minnie’s was by far the loudest and most crowded… and the most fun. We often arrived after their dinner of the Seven Fishes… but later as I learned to eat more of the fish dishes, we began eating there on Christmas Eve. If you’ve never eaten an Italian holiday meal… it’s one meal after another. Once the main food dishes have cleared, the table is replenished with fruits and nuts and always the gallon of wine on the table.
I remember always eyeing the cookie table… it was like being at a wedding… no one arrived without a dish of cookies… just looking at the cookie dishes, I knew who baked. As my mother never baked cookies…. this is where I learned about baking. My mother in law was a great cook and baker and taught me how to bake many of the family cookies that have become my favorites over the years. Read about the Cookie Bakers HERE!
Cherrywinks… my favorite Christmas cookie! Recipe found Here.
Easter was another holiday where I learned about traditions… the family “ham pie”, “Easter breads”, “rice pie”, “wheat pie”… pies that I never heard of! For several years, I wanted no part of these pies… not even tasting them. It took years of watching my mother in law bake before I slowly began tasting… and soon creating a taste for; it was probably the “ham pie” that I first liked and learned to cook. Baking ham pie was quite a task to take… as it often began the day before… in cutting up the ham… which seemed to be my father in laws job. He also was called upon in rolling out her pepper dough… I can still hear her calling to him to come and help as she couldn’t roll it… or want to roll it out!
Family cookbooks that I’ve created. It makes me feel good in knowing that many families still refer to my cookbooks yearly in baking their traditional foods… such as the Christmas Seafood Sauce, Ham Pie, Grandma Minnie’s Easter Bread and the many cookie recipes like my favorites of Cherrywinks, Anginettes and Butter Balls.
Written recipes for these holiday dishes were never there… my mother in law always called her mother to inquire about measurements every holiday; Grandma Minnie never wrote a recipe down, they were all in her head… and she never forgot! Finally one year I made it my job to watch Grandma Minnie make pies… measuring ingredients to finally create those recipes. Even today, whenever I make “ham pie”, I still hear Grandma Minnie say… “always use an odd amount of eggs”... and I don’t dare use anything but! Writing those recipes pushed me to later create my two family cookbooks of those recipes, memories and photos. Many of our family recipes can be found Here!
Miss Grace was the last of the grandchildren to occupy this little crib… hopefully there will be great grandchildren who will one day lay inside!
Little did I know when I bought this small wooden crib in 1976 at a tag sale for five dollars… that I would create a tradition of it also being used for my grandchildren. When my first granddaughter Ella arrived, I offered it to my son and daughter in law and they were excited to use it. After cleaning it up, and buying a new mattress to fit, I sewed crib sheets to fit, as well as making bumper padding and a quilt to match. Who knew I could make a crib sheet… and it actually wasn’t that hard; I was quite pleased with myself in accomplishing that. After much search for the fabric to make a quilt, I drew up patterns and dragged out my sewing machine to make it all happen!
From the first year I began sewing felt ornaments, I’ve continued to make a new design every year of an ornament for the grandchildren… with many being knitted now.
My 2019 Christmas ornament was a knitted mitten showing their age. They were quite intricate in following detailed graphs to create the artwork and list their age.
Knitted ornaments of sweaters and mittens in past years
Traditions come in so many shapes and sizes…. from foods to family events to even crafts made yearly!
Continue reading 2019: 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks over HERE!
To read more Family Stories… click HERE.
© 2019, copyright Jeanne Bryan Insalaco; all rights reserved