Christmas with the San Valentino Family

Please welcome guest author Peggy Jaeger to the Cafe.

We all have our own traditions when it comes to the holidays, but what about our characters and their families? As writers, we’re encouraged to know everything about the people we create so that they are well-rounded, believable, “real” people to our readers. With this in mind, I’ve been thinking about the San Valentino family, my new family of characters, who will be introduced in February 2016 under the Candy Heart Series of the Wild Rose Press. How does this big, boisterous, loving family celebrate the happiest day in their religion?

The San Valentino’s are a modern day Italian-American clan with old world Italian traditions. Ninety-three year old Nonna Constanza is the matriarch and she rules with an iron –yet malleable – hand. She lives with her daughter Francesca, or Frankie as everyone lovingly calls her, and Frankie’s husband of forty years Guiseppe, “Joey V” San Valentino. Their youngest child, twenty-one year old Gia, is the only one of their six children still living at home.

Christmas eve is the typical family gathering for the San Valentino’s as this is the traditional la festa dei sette pesci , the feast of the seven fishes. In Italy it is know as La Vigilia, or the vigil, awaiting the birth of Jesus. Starting with a late lunch, the family will eat seven fish based courses, ending at midnight, the hour of the baby Jesus’s birth. Christmas music plays from the old fashioned stereo in the living room, Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra family favorites, and the tree is lit with thousands of white lights.

As for the delectable menu, Frankie is well known for her calamari and linguini in white sauce, and her shrimp diavolo, a very spicy and utterly delectable shrimp dish that even the bambini (babies) in the family love to eat.

Nonna will usually bake cod with an oregano and parsley breadcrumb coating – from breadcrumbs she makes herself using three daily old ciabatta bread (also homemade) and serve it over fat rigatoni with a splash of creamed red sauce. Another family favorite is her clams casino.

Aunt Gracie, Frankie’s oldest sister, brings her delicious fried scallops in white wine. Frankie’s sister-in-law Ursula will fill everyone’s plate with her steamed lobsters and then a course of scungilli salad. Gia was eight years old before she knew that scungilli was sea snails. And she still ate it, and loves it to this day!

Now, just so you don’t think all the family does is eat for those twelve hours, there are other activities planned. The children – and that includes the grown and married ones as well – are all allowed to empty their stockings at eight p.m. Nonna and Frankie are in charge of filling the dozens of handmade stockings that line the spacious brick fireplace, practically obliterating the view of the cherry wood mantle, with candies and little toys purchased at the dollar store.  The living room is thrown into happy chaos while the kids joyfully dump out their stocking contents onto the rug, as the men in the family fall into carbohydrate induced mini-comas in the family room recliners.

Then it’s off to ten p.m. Christmas Eve vigil/mass at the family church, St. Rita Armada de Jesus.  After mass, where most of the children fall asleep, they are carried to their warm beds to await the arrival of Babbo Natale ( Santa Claus) and the wonderful toys and presents he brings them.

I am one hundred percent Irish-American by heritage, but I grew up in my step-father’s Italian family and was an active participant in the feast of the seven fishes for most of my young life. The best part of the tradition for me wasn’t the cooking and eating of the fish courses, or the arrival of Babbo Natale, but the solidarity and the active celebrating together of a large, raucous family.  I wanted my fictional characters to feel this sense of commitment to family and traditions as well.

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3 Wishes

3 Wishes coverValentine’s Day is chocolatier Chloe San Valentino’s favorite day of the year. Not only is it the busiest day in her candy shop, Caramelle de Chloe, but it’s also her birthday. Chloe’s got a birthday wish list for the perfect man she pulls out every year: he’d fall in love with her in a heartbeat, he’d be someone who cares about people, and he’d have one blue eye and one green eye, just like her. So far, Chloe’s fantasy man hasn’t materialized, despite the matchmaking efforts of her big, close-knit Italian family. But this year for her big 3-0 birthday, she just might get her three wishes.

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Peggy Jaeger is a contemporary romance author who writes about strong women, the families who support them, and the men who can’t live without them. 

Her current titles, available now, include SKATER’S WALTZ and THERE’S NO PLACE LIKE HOME, and FIRST IMPRESSIONS books 1 through 3 in her 6-book The MacQuire Women Series, published by The Wild Rose Press.

Peggy holds a master’s degree in Nursing Administration and first found publication with several articles she authored on Alzheimer’s Disease during her time running an Alzheimer’s in-patient care unit during the 1990s. 

A lifelong and avid romance reader and writer, she is a member of RWA and her local New Hampshire RWA Chapter.



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