One of the most charming Italian customs is the postprandial evening stroll called the passeggiata. In Northern Italian cities it takes place on Sunday evenings but in the South and Sicily it’s a daily event. After the evening meal families get dressed up and take a leisurely stroll through the piazzas and old sections of their city or town. Elderly sit on benches or in cafes’ sipping espresso, teenagers flirt and the adults greet their old friends and exchange local gossip. All the shops are open and the tourists are gone; the city once again belongs to the inhabitants.
This tradition was brought to the North End by the Italians who emigrated here at the beginning of the last century and it still continues in small and unobtrusive ways. Just recently there was a popular Christmas stroll in the North End where many of the shops and boutiques opened their doors in the evening for neighbors to visit and shop.
Many years ago, the week before Christmas in the North End was a continuous passeggiata. All the neighborhood shops would have a bottle of wine or grappa opened, ready to share with their customers. Grocery stores, meat markets fruit and vegetable shops and even the barber shops would offer their friends and customers a sip or two to warm them on a cold winters day. Some would even have an assortment of antipasti or sfizi to nibble on. Giuffre’s fish market on Salem Street would have tubs of live eels, a Southern Italian New Year’s delicacy. They would skin the eel with a sharp knife and a pair of pliers while street kids watched in awe. The pastry shops on Hanover St. would have panettone and strufuli, specialties of the season, which are still available. Christmas in the North End was special time of year.
This past Wednesday Ralph delGaudio continued this tradition in his gift shop next to Paul Revere’s house. Ralph ordered an assortment of amazing pizza, sandwiches and calzones from Bob’s Italian Foods in Medford. Good friends gathered to remember old times and toast departed compadre.
Buon Natale, Ralph. We’ll look forward to next year’s gathering.
Nicholas Dello Russo is a lifelong North Ender and columnist. Often using vintage photographs, Nick tells the stories of growing up in the North End along with its culture and traditions. It was a time when the apartments were so small that residents were always on the streets enjoying “Life on the Corner.” Read more of Nick’s columns.