The origins of the Feast of Seven Fishes celebration can be found in the South of Italy. The region is surrounded by the Mediterranean, and seafood has been a major part of people’s diet for many generations.
Serving seafood for dinner on Christmas Eve is commonplace in Italy, which is predominantly Roman Catholic, and it is traditional to abstain from meat on this holiday. It was only after Italian immigrants came to the United States that the number ‘seven’ became an integral part of the feast.
The first Italian immigrants who arrived in America knew the celebration as La Cena della Vigilia (The Dinner of Christmas Eve), Il Cenone (The Grand Dinner), La Vigilia di Natale (Christmas Eve) or La Vigilia (The Eve).
Regarding the tradition that the number of fish dishes had to be strictly seven, even experts do not precisely know how this came about. Their best guesses revolve around the religious significance of the number, including the seven sacraments of the Catholic Church. In any case, Italian-Americans insist that specific traditional dishes should be included when celebrating the Feast of the Seven Fishes.
You will probably get seven different settings of traditional dishes if you visited seven different Italian American families on Christmas Eve. The choices are primarily determined by generational traditions. For example, some Italian-Americans may have childhood memories of having eel served to them by their grandparents for the celebration. Others may have fond memories of dining on spaghetti served with frutti di mare (fruit of the sea) red sauce.
Part 2 will discuss the most common dishes served at an Italian-American Christmas Eve celebration of the Feast of the Seven Fishes. Even if you are not a little bit Italian, don’t worry. No one’s perfect. Anyone who appreciates great food and good red wine can still enjoy this festive dinner party every year.
Lovers of super seafood, including fat, juicy crab, don’t have to drive to Baltimore, Ocean City, Hooper’s Island, or Annapolis anymore. Stay close to home and enjoy wonderful deliciousness all year around at our two new locations in Maryland!
Our Crofton branch can accommodate a large party group, so if you are interested in reserving tables, please call (443) 302-2680.