The holidays are right around the corner, and I am already looking ahead to plan our holiday menu. I love celebrating our Italian heritage over the holidays the many related traditions. Some of the most delicious traditions come from Italian homes during the holidays. Although Italians always seem to be interested in food, particularly during the numerous holidays throughout the year, food always seems to become a priority at Christmas. 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 La Vigilia, or the Feast Of Seven Fishes which is celebrated on Christmas Eve. This year we are in our new home close to family, so I am very excited to host my own Feast of The Seven Fishes this Christmas Eve. I will be working on a few new seafood recipes to use in my menu over the next few weeks, and I will share them with you soon!
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 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 typical pasta served for this meal. At the same time, several 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 seven different types of seafood must be 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 an incredible seafood feast this year, gather around your friends and family and enjoy the season. Here are some of my favorite seafood dishes. Choose a few to plan your personal Italian Christmas Eve menu. Add a few vegetable side dishes and a tasty dessert, and enjoy!
Feast of Seven Fishes
Revised December 2022