Feast Of The Seven Fishes


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



Breaded Mussels

Seafood Salad

Cured Salmon



Lemon Pasta With Shrimp

Seafood Soup Trieste Style

Spaghetti With Clams & Cherry Tomatoes



Grilled Octopus

Whole Fish Baked In Salt

Sicilian Swordfish With Tomato Relish

Deborah Mele
Updated December 2013


6 Responses to “Feast Of The Seven Fishes”

  1. 1
    Theresa Mastrioanni — December 14, 2011 @ 11:14 am

    loveeeeeeeeeeeeeeee this site…..recipes and stories melt my heart


  2. 2
    Diane — December 15, 2011 @ 4:29 pm

    Christmas Eve was always at Grandma’s house and yes at least 12 -13 different dishes.


  3. 3
    Elena — December 17, 2011 @ 5:43 pm

    My Nonni made little rolls with fish inside of them–I hated fish and would nibble only the outisde of the roll. At the time, I had no idea there was any signigance to the fish on the menu–because Nonni married an English lapsed Protestant, ham and other meats were served at Xmas dinner–so I suppose she snuck in the “fish balls” to remind her of her faith.


  4. 4
    Jennifer — December 20, 2011 @ 5:10 pm

    On Christmas Eve, my Italian mother-in-law would serve stuffed calamari, speghetti made with octopus/tomato sauce, fried shrimp, fried calamari, crab salad, and many other side dishes. I have enjoyed this new cultural experience since I married into this wonderful Italian family and have learned to carry on most of these traditonal dishes.


  5. 5
    Barbara F. — December 4, 2012 @ 6:16 pm

    My favorite foodie feast night of the entire year-Christmas Eve and Feast of the 7 Fishes – yum!


  6. 6
    Jackie — December 19, 2012 @ 2:49 pm

    I loved Christmas Eve with the Bruno side of our family. We would all gather at our grandparents house for The Feast of the Seven Fishes. My favorite fish was my grandmother’s Smelts. My cousin Leo and I couldn’t wait for them to get out of the oven. Truly miss those days, but will always have the wonderful memories.


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