Feast of the Seven Fishes
Food is a central part of the holidays and for many Italian Americans, the Feast of the Seven Fishes, on Christmas Eve is no exception. No one truly knows the origin of this tradition, but the fish dinner on Christmas Eve is celebrated in many Southern Italian families as well as many Italian American families. Some Italians claim that they treat Christmas Eve as a day of fasting in the Italian Catholic tradition, as they would Good Friday, prior to the Easter holiday. They refrain from eating meat, but are permitted to consume fish. Other Italians say the seven fish tradition is linked to other “seven” occurrences or phenomena in Italian and Catholic history — the seven sacraments, the seven hills in Rome, the seven days of the week, or the seven days it took God to create the universe.
The number of fish dishes vary according to family and regional tradition. Despite the variety you see from family to family, you will see some common seafood appear on nearly every menu. Calamari, pasta with a clam or tuna sauce, and baccala —dried, salted cod that is soaked for a few days and prepared in a white wine sauce or tomato sauce — are especially popular. Eel, smelts (typically fried) and dishes with anchovies, shrimp and clams are also favorites. The seven fishes meal is typically followed with scrumptious Italian desserts like Panatone, a bread baked with fruit or Italian cookies such as biscotti or fig cookies served along side some fresh espresso.
Inspired by Christmas Eve Italian style?