The Feast of the Seven Fishes

When I was a kid I looked forward to Christmas with much eagerness. Certainly I was excited about the gifts, but there was something else that was even better about the holiday: the food.

As a family of Italian heritage, Christmas Eve was really the main event. It featured an endless array of fish, pasta dishes, and Italian pastries. We also exchanged gifts on Christmas Eve. Sure Christmas day itself was important – Santa brought the gifts, we went to Church, and then another hearty meal. But the Eve was what I anticipated the most.

What I never knew was that there was a name for all this seafood consumption: the Feast of the Seven Fishes. Wikipedia has a barebones explanation for it. Being that Christmas Eve was traditionally a time of abstinence from meat, unsurprisingly Italians do what we always do best an just made a bunch of seafood dishes instead. Technically the feast did not have to have seven fish courses – it could have less, but it could have more.

Now that I am older and have my own family we’ll be spending Christmas at home. Which means it is up to me to provide the seafood fest. Here is what the Zummo menu looks like for tomorrow:

Fish curry (supplied by friends)
Crabmeat and artichoke dip (they don’t all have to be hearty courses)
Baked clams
Mussels with spaghetti
Shrimp scampi
Smoked salmon

And of course the most important element of the whole thing: octupus, or polpo as we called it.

Oh I guess I’ll make a vegetable as well, but this is about the seafood.

Anyway, that is my family tradition. Consider this a semi-open thread to discuss what your Christmas traditions are.

By the way, I’ll be blogging more about the feast on my personal wesbite – paulzummo.com. Look for the “Food and Booze” section where I also have written about the best cocktail in the world.

13 Responses to The Feast of the Seven Fishes

  • Foxfier says:

    *laughs* I was an adult before I realized that most families had Christmas on the day, instead of the eve!

    Christmas Mass was on the eve, because Father had to cover six different churches; gifts were at night, because cows have to eat even on Christmas. Food had to cook all day, and if family was traveling they needed to leave before it was too dark, so Mass– family dinner– presents, with stockings in the morning, was the normal way of things.

    My favorite tradition is oranges, or tangerines. Partly because they were always there, and partly because of how mom glows when she mentions how special it was when she was a kid and that was the only time they could ever get them.

  • Mary De Voe says:

    Being Polish, the family waited for the first star to appear before taking our Christmas Eve dinner. It consisted mostly of fish, mushrooms we had picked and dried all year, (father knew the difference and we now are amazed that we are all still here enjoying Christmas), mashed potatoes, vegetable and mother’s favorite banana cake with whipped cream, grapes, tangerines, nuts and candies of all kinds, always wine, mostly Virginia Dare, and the oplatek shared before the meal with confession of grievance, begging of forgiveness, kissing of the hands and faces and the hopes and promises for each individual at table for good fortune and God’s blessings, three brothers, one sister and both parents. Then, the caroling at table after the food, and a couple more glasses of wine. Godfathers and Godmothers came bearing gifts, more reliably than the sun rising, and early to bed to listen for Santa Clause, (and to catch mom and pop) They were good at it and were never caught.
    note to Foxfier: Yes, socked my brother with the tangerine in the toe of the sock. That is how the noun sock, became a verb. Not to worry, bother John grew to be know as Big John and three years state champion weightlifting, after his football scholarship.
    MERRY CHRISTMAS TO ALL AND TO ALL: A GOOD NIGHT.

  • Michael Paterson-Seymour says:

    Readers of the Pickwick Papers will recall the huge cod that Mr Pickwick took to Dingley Dell for Christmas.

    A cod, baked whole, the largest the kitchen range could accommodate and served with parsley sauce, was a traditional Christmas Eve dish in England

  • Richard III says:

    According to my mom’s Martha Stewart magazine, 1 version of that 7 fish/seafood Christmas dish has exactly 7 different fish and shellfish which each represent one of the 7 Sacraments. I don’t remember every ingredient, but one was scallops, which I think would represent Baptism (the article didn’t say what represented what), and I think squid are somehow logical to represent Confession. Anyone have any ideas what the other fish might be and what they stand for?

  • exNOAAman says:

    “Anyone have any ideas what the other fish might be and what they stand for?”
    ——–
    I vote anchovies for Extreme Unction.
    I think they taste like death and they’re soaked in olive oil.

    Sorry for the bad joke, but seriously…I seem to recall my mother in law (RIP) using anchovies as part of the 7.

    Happy Christmas to all..

  • PM says:

    My grandmother would have said – O Senor! – to seven fishes.
    She cooked dried, salted codfish with a tomato and onion sauce, and served it with polenta on Christmas Eve (many Fridays as well). Her grandchildren looked forward to the Day dinner of her ravioli, antipasto, and roast ‘way more’.

    Merry Christmas and happy memories.

  • Suburbanbanshee says:

    As soon as we were old enough to go to Midnight Mass, we started to have Christmas more on the Eve. Partly this was because Dad’s United Methodist church had services in the morning; but mostly it was because Grandpa liked Midnight Mass and they’d come over before Mass and socialize. But we still generally had presents in the morning. (Stockings were on St. Nicholas’ Day, from the German side of the family.) Then we could have Christmas Day lunch/dinner very late in the day.

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