For Italians, Christmas Eve is the main Christmas meal and The Feast of the Seven Fishes is the only Christmas meal I’ve ever known.
I actually thought everyone celebrated Christmas this way and it wasn’t until I went away to college that I realized how many people really don’t do much for Christmas Eve. Each year, my family would gather in my mom’s kitchen and from early morning until well into the late evening, the aroma of amazing food and the sound of laughter filled the air.
Here’s a little background on the origin of the Feast:
Southern Italians around the world celebrate Christmas Eve with a Feast of the Seven Fishes, also known as La Vigilia (Italian: “the vigil”).
It is a meal that typically consists of seven different seafood dishes. Some Italian families have been known to celebrate with 9, 11 or 13 different seafood dishes. This celebration is a commemoration of the wait, Vigilia di Natale, for the midnight birth of the baby Jesus.
The tradition of eating seafood on Christmas Eve dates from the medieval Catholic tradition of abstinence–in this case, refraining from the consumption of meat or milk products–on Fridays and specific holy days. As no meat or butter could be used, observant Catholics would instead eat fish, typically fried in oil.
There are many hypotheses for what the number “7” relates to, one being the number of Sacraments in the Roman Catholic Church. Another theory is that seven is a number representing perfection: the traditional Biblical number for divinity is three, and for Earth is four, and the combination of these numbers, seven, represents God on Earth, or Jesus Christ.
Brought to this country by my grandfather, I’m proud to carry on this tradition. Each year when I begin the preparation of Mom’s Christmas Eve Seafood Sauce, that aroma takes me right back to her kitchen and everyone is alive again for this one special day. After all, that’s what Christmas and the Holidays are really all about. Good food, good friends and family gathered to celebrate a joyous season. What more could anyone want?
I hope the recipes, tips and menus on this page will inspire you to add some of these ideas to your own holiday gatherings, whatever they may be. May you always find joy, hope, laughter and friendship throughout this amazing world.