Some of the most delicious traditions come from Italian homes during the holidays. Although Italians always seem to take an interest in food particularly during the numerous holidays throughout the year, at Christmas, food always seems to become a priority. Apart from the many religious traditions, this is the time each year when celebration foods are prepared and families gather together to enjoy this special season. One of the most famous traditions followed each Christmas is the one for La Vigilia, or the Feast Of Seven Fishes which is celebrated on Christmas Eve.
The tradition of eating seafood on Christmas Eve dates from the medieval Catholic tradition of abstinence, or 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, often fried in olive oil. The type of seafood prepared for this feast is similar for most families as there are always seven combinations of anchovies, sardines, dried salt cod, smelts, eels, squid, octopus, shrimp, mussels, oysters, and clams. Spaghetti with Sardines is a very typical pasta served for this meal, while a number of other seafood selections are often combined in a seafood salad eaten as a first course, or appetizer.
While researching the background of this tradition I was surprised to find out that it is not always simply seven seafood dishes prepared. Some feel there must be seven different types of seafood served, while others traditionally serve ten or thirteen fish dishes each Christmas Eve. It is thought that the seven fishes represent the seven sacraments of the Catholic Church, while others celebrate the Stations of the Cross. Thirteen dishes are said to represent the twelve apostles plus Jesus. Whatever your beliefs are, plan a wonderful seafood feast this year, gather round your friends and family and enjoy the season. Here is my suggestions for seven seafood dishes for your Italian Christmas Eve menu. Add a few vegetable side dishes, and a tasty dessert, and enjoy!
Feast of Seven Fishes
Updated December 2013