Christmas Eve at Pagliacci

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Christmas Eve traditions around the globe vary widely, but one element unites them: It is a time of togetherness, often gathered around food. In Italy (and in many Italian-American families), the Feast of the Seven Fishes is celebrated. This sumptuous meal involves seven different types of seafood served before midnight mass. The seven dishes are said to represent the sacraments. Religious symbolism aside, most people use the occasion to gather family and friends to enjoy delicious food.

Many include Pagliacci Pizza as part of their tradition. We’ve been honored to be included in so many families’ gatherings. This year though, we are closing our stores so all Pagliacci employees can be with their friends and relatives. Whether they indulge in the Feast of the Seven Fishes, Chinese take-out and a movie, or make homemade pizzas with co-workers, we feel everyone, even humbugs, should be celebrating in their own fashion.

“Our pizzerias gets hammered with pick-ups the night of Christmas Eve,” said Jeff Woodruff, vice president of operations at Pagliacci. “For our pizzeria managers, this night has always been a point of pride as they pull together their team and get organized for the volume. But this year, after giving it much thought, we decided the right thing to do for our people is to create the space for them to spend time with their friends and family on the holiday.”

Jeff will be one of those starting new traditions on the 24th. In the twenty years he’s worked at Pagliacci, he has spent most of his Christmas Eves making pizza, returning late to a dinner kept warm in the oven by his family. Last year, due to a busier than usual 23rd, many of the pizzerias were short on dough for the busy rush on Christmas Eve. Jeff and his oldest son drove from location to location gathering any extra dough and distributing it to those in need. “Gavin and I had a great time pretending that we were Santa delivering presents,” Jeff says.

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John Clifford, Pagliacci’s director of operations, brought his family traditions from New Mexico to Seattle when he moved. “My family has done a New Mexican Christmas Eve for nearly as long as I can remember. In the cold afternoon, we would set out luminarias (small paper lanterns). We would then join our neighbors for cocoa and bizcochitos (a shortbread-esque Mexican cookie flavored with anise). In Seattle, we don’t experience our neighbors putting out luminarias, but we still have bizcochitos, often made by my old neighbor and sent or carried via my parents. John also prepares quite a feast of traditional New Mexican specialties, such as tamales and green chiles rellenos. 

Jeff Maneval, field manager, has one essential requirement for his celebrations: gathering friends and family for a simple meal. The food and event may vary, but not the togetherness. This year, with Christmas Eve landing on a Saturday with a Seahawks game at 1 p.m., Jeff plans to utilize his outdoor kitchen, so he can use four ovens to prepare all the food.

To Ted Bartlett, general manager at the Magnolia store, Christmas Eve is particularly special. Many years ago, Ted was a Christmas Eve gift to his parents. Whatever traditions they previously had were, from that point on, replaced by birthday celebrations for Ted. 

Jim Tanguay, in his 25th year at Pagliacci, has spent many Christmas Eve’s with his wife’s parents and sister at his house. The menu always included prime rib, which his father-in-law loved. Unfortunately, the tradition ended last year due to the declining health of his in-laws. They can no longer make the trip up from Arizona. He’s very thankful for the many good memories of the occasion. “The store on The Ave will miss being able to brag about how busy they were,” Jim says. “However, I think they are pretty excited to have the day off and spend time with family this year.”

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So however you spend your Christmas Eve, we hope you will be enjoying good food and cheer, following old traditions or building new ones. If your tradition involved Pagliacci Pizza, we are honored and very sorry we won’t be on your table this year.

If you’re at a loss and want to stick with the Italian theme, you could always try baked eel, an essential part of an Italian Christmas Eve celebration. According to Mario Batali, it would be practically sacrilegious to most Italians not to have it. It may not be as easy as ordering from Pagliacci Pizza, but Mario Batali says it’s a snap to prepare. Just don’t forget to ask the fishmonger to skin and gut the eel!