Sicilian Feast of the Seven Fishes for Christmas Eve

Sicilian Feast of the Seven Fishes for Christmas Eve

Sicilian Feast of the Seven Fishes for Christmas Eve

Many years ago our family adopted the tradition of the Feast of Seven Fishes for our Christmas Eve holiday feast. It’s certainly changed over the years, but it’s still a fun family tradition we love doing. If you’re wondering what food to make for Christmas Eve dinner, give this a try!

And yes … there really are seven kinds of seafood!

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A Way to Keep Tradition Alive

I want to pass on the best of our family culture, traditions, and heritage. For the Italian side, this often means passing on the food and recipes.

Trying to have a healthy lifestyle isn’t about throwing traditions centered around food out of the window. Far from it! Instead, I’ve modified meatball recipes, pasta recipes, and even Christmas cookie recipes to fit our allergies and dietary needs.

One Italian-American tradition in particular was easy and fun to continue with our family. It’s called “The Feast of the Seven Fishes” in the US but simply “La Vigilia,” (the vigil)  in southern Italy. As the name suggests, this tradition literally involves making seven (or more) types of fish on Christmas Eve.

Feast of the Seven Fishes: It’s What’s for Christmas Eve Dinner!

There’s much debate as to the historical origin of this tradition, though we continue it simply because of its connection to family. Eating fish on Christmas Eve traces back to the Roman Catholic tradition of abstaining from meat on Fridays and specific Holy Days. Abstaining from meat on Christmas Eve would have signified waiting in anticipation of the Christ Child’s arrival on Christmas morning.

During the 19th and 20th centuries, there were a lot of southern Italian immigrants to America (especially New York). They brought with them the tradition of serving fish dishes on Christmas Eve. Many Italian-American families still continue this holiday season tradition.

The number seven is also up for debate, as many families serve fewer types of fish (and some serve as many as 13!). Seven is likely the most common number because of its strong historical and cultural significance in many parts of Europe, including Italy. In biblical history, the number seven represents completeness and perfection. There are also seven sacraments and seven deadly sins in Catholic teachings.

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