Christmas Isn't Christmas Without... Christmas Eve

It means all the fishy deliciousness I've come to savor as an adult: fried smelts, gravlax, fruit de mar, and, because my aunt is awesome, homemade gnocchi.
For some households, Christmas Eve is what it's all about. It is The Night, and the 25th is a day to digest the pounds of fish you put away.
From ages 9-17 The Grabowska girls made the 6-hour car journey up North to celebrate Wigilia (pronounced VEE-lia) with our Polish cousins. The dining table was extended to maximum capacity with straw tucked under the table cloth, and at some point before dinner, the oldest gent of the evening would stand up with his wife and a church wafer. He broke the wafer in two and passed half of it to his wife with a "merry Christmas," and a smooch. She'd break her piece in half, and pass it on the person nearest, with a peck on the cheek, and so it would go until we all had some wafer crumbling in our palms and had kissed and wished everyone a merry Christmas. At 11 years old, this was not my most favorite moment in the world.
There is a rumor out there that Wigilia is supposed to be celebrated with 12 dishes of fish, and my cousins took that very seriously. So we'd pass around platters of whole trout, and whole salmon decorated with slices of cucumber and dill, plus other concotions of the marine variety.
Image result for salmon with cucumber scales
Hello, old friend.

Not many young children enjoy seafood, and I was no exception. But this was not a house that stocked fish sticks, or anything slightly more edible to a childish palate. No, no, I was among adults, old world adults, and I was expected to be polite, quiet, and courteous and take a little bit of everything. Which I did, cutting off the merest slivers and spoonfuls of each dish. It took nearly an hour for the food to reach everyone, and my arms were beginning to shake with fatigue. But, to my horror, my plate was still covered. A cousin took pity on me, as I was so very close to tears, and slipped a plate of "land fish" my way. It was the best thing I ever had.
Across the table from me was our host's husband, merrily tucking into the fillet mignon she had cooked for him. He flatly refused to participate in these fishy shenanigans. How I envied him.
But these days, I would be faintly uncomfortable eating meat tonight. As I've said, my old age has opened up the delicious world of seafood to me, and I have been counting the days to the moment I can pop a crispy fried smelt in my mouth.


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