This elaborate feast is an enormous endeavor. One can imagine that in Italy, where it is not uncommon for extended families to live under the same roof, the workload is spread around, but it doesn't always work that way in this country. Two members of my family, for example, are very young, very wiggly, and very difficult to separate from the Christmas tree. In the past few years, then, we haven't been able to make it back to Katonah for the occasion, so I've been creating a Cena della Vigilia on my own. I've learned a lot from my father, of course. For years, I watched him duplicate my grandmother's menu: a platter with stuffed clams, stuffed mussels, fried squid, and fried whitebait, followed by linguine with crabs, cuttlefish with peas, and a whole roasted or broiled fish. One year, though, we stared down our last uneaten cod. Not only was this too much fish too late in the feast, but it was too much of a mess for a large gathering. That was the year my father got serious about tailoring his menu to Americans, who, even on holidays, don't eat like Italians. "I needed a more logical presentation, with less complicated, less rich recipes," he tells me. The art of the meal, he explains, is to feed your guests in a modest, steady flow, without filling them up. With that goal in mind, he started serving assorted antipasti on one plate, then a pasta course, and then the main dish. "For years, I thought Cena della Vigilia was a feast of abundance," says my father, "but it's not. It's a feast of celebration in restraint."