STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
You know, as we approach Christmas, we've been learning, on this program, about holiday food traditions. And today, a Southern Italian tradition: La Cena della Vigilia di Natale, or dinner on Christmas Eve. That evening the meal for many Italians is the Feast of the Seven Fishes. It's a tradition many Italian Americans have adopted, or adapted, as Katherine Perry reports.
KATHERINE PERRY, BYLINE: Cindy Coddington, who grew up with the feast, remembers the day as a whirlwind of family and fry pans.
CINDY CODDINGTON: Ours was fried shrimp, fried scallops, pan-fried smelts, calamari cut up in rings and fried. And after - I'll tell you - after the holidays, you really couldn't stand the sight of any more fried food for a while.
PERRY: Cindy says that while the food didn't look like her friends' Norman Rockwell spreads, everything else that went with the feast said a classic Christmas. Except her family's idea of a Christmas carol was a little different.
CODDINGTON: Do you know the song "Volare," Domenico Modugno? (singing) Volare, oh oh. Cantare oh oh oh oh! That song played in the background.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC, âVOLAREâ BY DOMENICO MODUGNO)
CODDINGTON: It was very exciting. You know, all of your relatives were coming over, and your mom was cooking all day. This went on for several hours. We'd stay up until midnight, and that's when presents were exchanged, at midnight. And that became Christmas.
PERRY: But today most people don't have the time to cook the feast, or enough extended family to eat it, and that's where restaurants come in. At Island Creek Oyster Bar in Boston, Chef Jeremey Sewall is doing his own version: featuring items like Jonah crab beignets and tuna crudo. It is not your grandmother's feast. But Sewall says he's not trying to co-opt tradition; he's trying to keep it alive.
JEREMEY SEWALL: I think it's fun to bring it into the restaurant sometimes, but I think preserving the home kind of tradition is important as well.
PERRY: And Cindy Coddington agrees. She likes to see a creative take on the feast, but she'd still like to see it come back home someday. Every year she still gives a nod to it in her house by serving at least one fish on Christmas Eve.
For NPR News, I'm Katherine Perry.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
INSKEEP: This is N the PR News.