The Feast of the Seven Fishes (festa dei sette pesci), celebrated on Christmas Eve, also known as The Vigil (La Vigilia), is believed to have originated in Southern Italy and is not a known tradition in many parts of Italy. Today, it is a completely Italian-American feast that typically consists of seven different seafood dishes. Some Italian American families have been known to celebrate with 9, 11 or 13 different seafood dishes. This celebration is a commemoration of the wait, Vigilia di Natale, for the midnight birth of the baby Jesus.
The long tradition of eating seafood on Christmas Eve dates from the medieval Roman Catholic tradition of abstinence—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 instead eat fish, typically fried in oil.
There are many hypotheses for what the number "7" relates to, one being the number of Sacraments in the Roman Catholic Church. Another theory is that seven is a number representing perfection: the traditional Biblical number for divinity is three, and for Earth is four, and the combination of these numbers, seven, represents God on Earth, or Jesus Christ.
The "Feast of the Seven Fishes", a celebration of Christmas Eve with meals of fish and seafood, but there may be seven, eight, or even nine specific fishes that are considered traditional. The most famous dish Southern Italians are known for is Baccalà (salted cod fish). Reasons for celebrating with such a simple fish as Baccalà is attributed to the greatly impoverished regions of Southern Italy. Fried Smelts, calamari, and other types of seafood have been incorporated into the Christmas Eve dinner over the years.
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The components to the meal are similar for most families as there are always some combination of anchovies, sardines, dried salt cod, smelts, eels, squid, octopus, shrimp, mussels, and clams. In the mixes are pastas, vegetables, baked or fried kale patties, baked goods, and homemade wine. Also, this tradition still remains very popular to this day.
- Stuffed calamari in tomato sauce
- Stuffed-baked quahogs
- Stuffed-baked lobsters
- Fried smelts
- Oyster shooters
- Deep fried calamari
- Deep fried fish/shrimp
- Deep fried scallops
- Deep fried cod
- Linguine with clam, tuna, lobster, or anchovy sauce
- Cod fish balls in tomato sauce
- Marinated eel
- Octopus salad
- Kale patties (baked or fried)
- Scungilli salad
- Crab stuffed mushrooms
- Insalata de Mare (salad of the sea)