the story behind the book | kate tuttle

A Dorchester boy serves up memories of Boston’s holiday traditions

david wilson for the boston globe

Growing up in Dorchester, Anthony Sammarco remembers Christmas Eve for the bountiful, traditional Italian meal, known as the Feast of the Seven Fishes, eaten with his paternal grandparents. “Every Christmas Eve we would go to their house in Medford,” he said. “And my grandparents would prepare a dinner, which would go the gamut from pasta with clam sauce, and smelt, and shrimp, and bacala — all sorts of different things, but it would be seven different kinds of fish. Because it was a feast, but it was also a fast.”

Sammarco’s Christmas memories also include more public celebrations. “I always remember when I was a child going to the Boston Common and seeing the nativity crèche and the decorated trees that would have all the different colors all around the common, but also the Enchanted Village at Jordan Marsh was the most wonderful thing,” he said. “It became a tradition, we would always go.”

In his newest book, “Christmas Traditions in Boston,” the prolific Sammarco (he has more than 60 books to his credit) explores the holiday’s local history. It didn’t start out as a love story. In 1659, the celebration of Christmas was outlawed by the Puritans of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, a ban that lasted until 1689, when Britain’s Glorious Revolution brought more religious tolerance to both England and the colonies.


In time, Boston would come to embrace the holiday — Harvard German professor Charles Follen brought Christmas trees to Cambridge in the 1830s and in 1875 Roxbury printer Louis Prang began producing the country’s first Christmas cards (some of which are reprinted in Sammarco’s book in full color).

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Sammarco knows he’s not alone in remembering the happy holidays of his Boston childhood. “I wanted this book to evoke not just my memories but the memories of many people,” he said.

Sammarco will read from his new book at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Medford Library, 111 High St., Medford.

Kate Tuttle, president of the National Book Critics Circle, can be reached at