At the Italian Table

How Christmas customs inherited from a world away are cultivated in the Valley

Traditions of all types come to life during the holiday season, many among them involving a memorialized, mealtime celebration. While practices vary between families, one popular piece of shared heritage is the Vigil — widely known as the Italian-American Feast of Seven Fishes. To learn how this centuries-old custom is handled here in the Hudson Valley, we checked in with some area eateries to see what they’ve got cooking:

Villa Nigrelli in Hopewell Junction is one restaurant hoping to share this ritual with patrons. Opened this January, the family-run Italian outpost has already become beloved for its authentic renderings of traditional dishes, and the holidays will be no exception. This Christmas they will be serving “old-timer” fish specials like bacallà (salt cod). “Just like my mom used to make,” says Frank Nigrelli, the restaurant’s owner, who emigrated from Calabria, Italy back in the 1970s.

“We try to bring a little touch from our country,” shares Nigrelli, whose family Christmas celebrations have numbered upwards of 30 attendees. Despite how busy the rest of the year can be working in the restaurant industry, Christmas is the one day the whole family gathers and eats. “When we go home, we all get together — including my mom who is 96 years old,” Nigrelli says. “It’s a beautiful thing.”

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Frank Guido’s Little Italy is hoping to incorporate these sensibilities, too. “That’s tradition in our family!” exclaims Frank Guido, who owns the Kingston mainstay, as well as Mariner’s Harbor and Port of Call. Come Christmas Eve, the intimate eatery will be offering a variety of customary seafood specials, including antipasti di mar, lobster fra diavolo, and linguine with anchovies.  

“Things change a lot over the years, and we try to accommodate that on our regular menu by having vegan or farm-to-table offerings,” says Guido, “but we’re really going to focus on tradition. Everything we serve is what my grandmother brought from Calabria 100 years ago. Just very simple, and classic.”

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