Industry and manufacturing jobs brought a wave of Italian immigrants to Clearfield County during the end of the 1800’s and beginning of the 1900’s.
With this new rich ethnic group of people, came their customs and traditions from the “Old Country.” In those days throughout the county, there were neighborhoods much like “Little Italy.”
East End in Clearfield was one of those communities along with pockets of Italian families in Chester Hill, Osceola Mills, Houtzdale, Curwensville, DuBois and Morrisdale just to name a few.
At Christmastime, the highlight of the holiday was the Christmas Eve celebration of the Feast of the Seven Fishes.
Many people from around the county would make a special trip to East End Clearfield to purchase Joseph and his wife Mary (Curtorillo) Santinoceto’s specialty Italian traditional foods straight from Italy at Santinoceto’s Italian Market.
Travel was also made to DuBois for the delicious breads and Italian food at Charles and Fannie (Kinner) Zappia’s grocery market, Zappia’s Bakery.
Barrels of chestnuts, fresh buccala, smelts, calamari, pasta noodles, clams, anchovies, cheese, olives, loaves of bread and on and on were sold by the bags full to the customers, who were more like family.
Everyone was welcome into an Italian home for Christmas Eve to share in the abundance of the traditional seven (or more) fish meal.
There were usually grandparents behind the scenes speaking in their native tongue. You could always hear the words “Mangia! Mangia!” as all the guests were urged to indulge.
The tradition is not to eat any form of meat on this day. It is a fasting of all meats until Christmas Day arrives.
Homemade wine was poured and fresh fruit was garnished on the side of the glass. Platters of olives, cheese, anise, breads and antipasto salads would fill the tables.
The smell of the shrimp, eel, smelt, calamari, and stuffed buccala all fried in oils, wines, sauces and garlic would literally hit you in the face when the front door of the home was opened.
The scent is imbedded in the minds of many Italians that were fortunate enough to celebrate this tradition.
After the guests were completely stuffed from the main courses, the tables were emptied and the Italian cookies, cannoli, biscotti and coffee were then brought out for dessert.
There were always bowls of assorted nuts on the end tables in the living room just in case anyone would have space left for more treats.
Many families would start the celebration mid-afternoon and have guests coming and going until late in the evening. After the guests had all left, it was time to get dressed for midnight mass.
The family would arrive home, get the Italian cookie tray out for Santa along with milk and go to bed hoping Santa would not forget them.
The sights, sounds and aroma will always be cherished by the descendants that had the opportunity to experience this Italian Christmas Eve ritual.
Merry Christmas from the Clearfield County Historical Society and remember, “Mangia! Mangia!”
A Note from Clearfield County Historical Society
You can still shop for ethnic Italian food at Joseph and Mary Santinoceto’s grandson, Nick Santinoceto’s Italian Market, located at 304 N. Third St., Clearfield.
Also, Zappia’s Bakery is now Calliari’s Bakery, located in the same building at 318 DuBois St.. They are famous for their home of Zappia’s bread that is still in high demand.