Buon Natale— The Feast of the Seven Fishes

By Aimee Della Bitta / Photography By Chris Rov Costa | Last Updated December 24, 2017
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Growing up in an Italian-American home, our traditions o en centered on family, food and the belief that the two together are the foundation for memorable experiences, especially during the holidays.

My father and his family immigrated to America when he was 9 years old, so my siblings and I grew up with a very strong sense of Italian culture and customs. One of my favorite traditions was celebrating Christmas Eve with the Feast of the Seven Fishes.

If you research the origin of the Feast of the Seven Fishes, you’ll nd some contradicting information. It’s true that the practice of eating only sh and seafood on Christmas Eve has roots in Southern Italy, where it was called the Vigil (La Vigilia). You’ll also nd that it goes back to early Roman Catholic days when abstinence from meat and milk products on the eve of holy days was strong. 

After that things get ... well, a little shy.

Ask Italian-Americans today what this celebration represents and how the feast should be prepared and you’ll hear a variety of responses. Some say the seven shes represent the seven sacraments. Others believe that you should actually serve 12 types of sh, one for each apostle. Each family may have its own tradition within the tradition, but the common thread remains: Gather around a table on Christmas Eve with family and friends and indulge in an abundance of seafood.

is is how I remember my family celebrating Christmas Eve, and how I hope my children will remember their Christmas Eve celebrations when they’re older. Sure, my grandmother always started her feast with baccalà (salted cod). Now, my husband serves homemade pasta with sage butter and lobster. e value of the tradition is not in the details, it’s in the memories.

Below is a sample menu for your own feast. It’s for you to decide how you adorn your table. ere are no rules—the only intent is that this holiday season, you gather with

family and friends, feast on fresh seafood and toast to the memories you’re creating. 

Whole Roasted Red Snapper

Cooking a whole fish looks more intimidating than it is. Roasting it is actually quite simple and it makes for an incredibly elegant presentation.   

Cioppino

Italian Fish Stew-It’s called the Feast of the Seven Fishes and you’ll easily meet your quota with this comfort fish stew. So, if you want to really simplify your feast, while still treating your...

Linguini and Brown Butter Lobster Sauce

This dish will instantly become a family favorite. It is an elegant and delicious way to add a pasta dish—either homemade or storebought—to your menu. The recipe calls for linguini, but you can...

Baccalà Salad

Baccalà is Italian for salted codfish. It comes mostly from the coast of Labrador and Newfoundland, where it’s fished, salted and exported all over the world. When choosing Baccalà  remember...

Fried Smelts

A plate of fried smelts is a staple at many Italian-American Christmas Eve dinners. The silvery fish are found in cool waters and boast high amounts of protein, calcium and minerals. Local asian...

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