On Christmas Eve every year for many years, my family has celebrated the Feast of the Seven Fishes (festa dei sette pesci). This is a tradition if you are from Southern Italy or in many of the Italian-American homes on Christmas Eve, especially in the Northeast.
In Southern Italy, traditional dishes can include: anchovies, sardines, dried salt cod, smelts, eels, squid, octopus, shrimp, mussels, and clams paired with pastas, vegetables, baked or fried kale patties, baked goods, and homemade wine. The Feast of the Seven Fishes is also known as The Vigil (La Vigilia) and is a commemoration of the wait, Vigilia di Natale, for the midnight birth of the baby Jesus.
“It’s what Italians do when they say they’re fasting.” More precisely, the Feast is a meal served in Italian households on La Vigilia (Christmas Eve). In many parts of Italy, the night is traditionally a partial fast, during which no meat should be served. But in true Italian style, this proscription has morphed into something very unfastlike indeed: course after course of luxurious seafood dishes, often as many as 7, 10, or even 13. “No one’s quite sure of the significance of the number,” says Batali. “Some families do seven for the sacraments. Some do ten for the stations of the cross. And some even do 13 for the 12 apostles plus Jesus.”
My family is not Italian, but so many of our family and friends who are Italian-American celebrate and it has been adapted as a beloved tradition. I even extend the Italian influenced noshing to Christmas Day where I lay out a full antipasto, make two kinds of lasagna, plus sausage and peppers!
For Feast of the Seven Fishes, my Mom leads the menu planning several weeks ahead of time, brainstorming the best feast possible and confirming what everyone is bringing. The base dish tends to be her cioppino with shrimp, white fish, king crab and clams, but the cold seafood salad has also been a winner in recent years. I can also guarantee that there will be a smoked fish dip too – so scrumptious!
Check out my Feast of the Seven Fishes Pinterest board and below are scrumptious seafood recipes from The Hungry Goddess to inspire your own Feast of the Seven Fishes!
My Dad was famous for bringing the grill out even in the winter! If you want some tips on grilling fish for your Feast of the Seven Fishes celebration, click here for Grilling Fish Tips.