This holiday season we invite you to learn more about the Italian-American Christmas Eve celebration called Festa dei sette pesci – The Feast of Seven Fishes. Originating in Southern Italy, this long held tradition commemorates togetherness and involves gathering the family for a feast of seafood dishes. Gather your ingredients and celebrate one of the most beloved Italian-American traditions of the year with an array of clam pastas, crab cakes, and stuffed calamari.
If you grew up in an Italian household there’s a good chance The Feast of Seven Fishes was a part of your holiday traditions. Dating back to the Roman Catholic’s tradition of abstaining from eating meat on the eve of a feast day, this celebration commemorates the wait – called the Vigilia di Natale – for the midnight birth of baby Jesus. Since no meat or animal fat could be consumed leading up to Christmas, observant Catholics would instead eat fish, most notably baccalà, a salted cod fish that was easily obtained and inexpensive.
Unbeknownst to many, the term “Feast of Seven Fishes” became more commonly used only in recent years. With no mentioning of the Feast of Seven Fishes in the Roman Catholic Calendar, its origins remain unknown. However, we do know that the practice began to popularize in the United States with the immigration of South Italian immigrants in New York’s Little Italy in the late 1800s; it is then we see the first reference of the feast in the New York Times and the Philadelphia Inquirer around the 1980s.
Today, the meal typically consists of seven different seafood dishes, but many families celebrate with nine, eleven or thirteen, with the most common belief being that they represent the seven Sacraments of the Catholic Church. Whatever the number chosen, each family has their own traditions and special dishes passed down through generations with the shared memories and experiences of being together on this beautiful holiday.
Buon Natale e Felice Anno Nuovo!