The Feast of the Seven Fishes

Sunday, December 23, AD 2012

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 – Look for the “Food and Booze” section where I also have written about the best cocktail in the world.

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13 Responses to The Feast of the Seven Fishes

  • *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.

  • 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.

  • 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

  • Tamales after Christmas Eve Mass.

  • Buon Natale a Tutti!

  • 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?

  • “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..

  • Forgive me if this comes across as cynical, but would salmon work for Marriage because they mate just once (and die shortly afterwards)?

  • Pingback: English Propers Midnight Mass | Big Pulpit
  • 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.

  • If monkfish are edible, they could be Holy Orders. Now all we need here are candidates for Confirmation (no pun intended) and the Eucharist.

  • 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.

  • Do cod (or at least their oil) make an acceptable Confirmation symbol? And do shrimp or oysters work better for Eucharist?

Capitalism — When People Sell Things I Don't Like

Monday, June 15, AD 2009

With the garden currently shooting up, I’ve found myself again disposed to read gardening and food related books. I finished reading The Omnivore’s Dilemma last week, and aside from a few gripes in regards to Michael Pollan’s understanding of economics, I enjoyed it quite a bit. On the last run by the library, I picked up a copy of Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life. The idea of moving out onto acreage and growing much of one’s own food is something that I find interesting. I enjoy gardening, I enjoy cooking gourmet food, and I think there’s a cultural and psychological value to remaining in touch with the way that humans have gained food for themselves in past centuries.

However, Kingsolver is far more passionate (and less balanced) in her jeremiads against “industrial food” than Pollan, and more prone to denunciations of what “capitalism” has done to our food culture. Indeed, so much so as to crystallize for me a trend among those who denounce “capitalism” and its impact on Western Culture. Kingsolver had just reached the crescendo of a complaint in regards to large seed companies peddling hybrids and genetically modified strains, when she turned to the subject of heirloom vegetable varieties, and her joy at paging through lengthy seed catalogs full of heirloom seeds.

…Heirloom seeds are of little interest to capitalism if they can’t be patented or owned. They have, however, earned a cult following among people who grow or buy and eat them. Gardeners collect them like family jewels, and Whole Foods Market can’t refrain from poetry in its advertisement of heirlooms….

So you see, when large agribusiness firms sell farmers seeds for field corn which are genetically modified to repel pests,
that’s capitalism. But when catalog and internet businesses build a thriving niche selling heirloom vegetable seeds, and Whole Foods ad men wax poetical over $7/lb tomatoes, that’s… Well, it certainly can’t be capitalism, can it? Not if it’s good.

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8 Responses to Capitalism — When People Sell Things I Don't Like

  • Love free market and capitalism! They are the best!

  • “In some circles, “capitalism” becomes such a scare-word that people forget what it means.”

    Unlike “socialism” in some other circles, right?


  • Great post, Darwin!

    It is ironic that things like Whole Foods are made possible only because they are one choice among many at the “capitalist” buffet table.

  • Actually, Joe, I’d agree with you that “socialism” as used in contemporary American discourse has become fairly meaningless. It’s used to mean any sort of centralization at all.

    Complicating this is the fact that many of the European groups calling themselves “socialist” these days are in fact groups endorsing technocratic oligarchy with a large social safety net.

    While on the other side, “capitalism” and even “free markets” are sometimes mis-used to endorse anything that large companies would like — even government protections of large corporations’ market shares.

  • This reminds me back during the election when the differences between the McCain and Obama tax plans were described as being a choice between socialism and unfettered capitalism, whereas in reality it was about whether the top marginal rate for the federal income tax would be 36% or 39.5%.

  • I’m currently reading Joseph Heath’s The Rebel Sell: How the Counter Culture Became Consumer Culture. Heath documents how much so-called anti-consumerism movements are defined in terms of branded goods, both negatively (‘I would never shop at Wal-Mart’) but also positively (e.g. Adbusters selling their own brand of sneakers). Heath’s view is that consumer trends are driven mainly by competitive status seeking, and that the anti-consumerist pose is simply one more strategy for gaining status and distinction through one’s consumer choices.

  • “but whose of us who are in any sense in the cultural minority should hesitate to rail against capitalism, when it is free markets which allow those of us with niche-y tastes to see our needs met as well as those of the mainstream culture.”

    If one would endorse or reject capitalism, socialism, or anything else culturally relevant based on how it allows for our tastes to be met, then, I think the reasoning that would follow would verge on relativistic. The point of having a rigorous discussion on the merits and demerits of the imperfect options we have come up with thus far is that there is a standard of justice that is worth striving for continually, I think.

  • I would tend to view most political and economic structures as relative rather than absolute goods. Thus, for instance, I see great virtue to representative democracy, but if I lived in a stable and well ruled monarchy I would be against any agitation to overthrow it for a democracy of unknown quality.

    In light of this, I think one should consider the likely results of replacing freedom with a more controlled system. Given that few people consider it worth while to spend extra money for food which is produced “organically” or “sustainably”, I think those who espouse that kind of food would do well not to seek to do away with free markets — since it is free markets which allow them to get what they want. If they somehow got their wish and saw free markets abolished while remaining a small minority, they would see not the imposition of their preferences, but in all likelihood those of the majority.

    In similar form, it is perhaps not coincidental that the Church developed a greater understanding of the advantages of religious freedom when in the space of a few decades the old Catholic monarchies of Europe were replaced by secular regimes hostile to the Church.