Christmas Trivia - Seven Fishes
What is the Feast of the Seven Fishes, and why is it celebrated at Christmas?
The Feast of the Seven Fishes is a Christmas Eve celebration in Italian households involving meals of fish and other seafood. The tradition originated in Southern Italy (where it is known as festa dei sette pesci).
Today, the feast typically consists of seven different seafood dishes.
The long tradition of eating seafood on Christmas Eve ("La Vigilia") dates from the Roman Catholic tradition of not consuming meat or milk products on the eve of specific holy days. Because no meat or butter could be used on such days, observant Catholics would instead eat fish. (It is for this reason that many restaurants choose clam chowder as the "soup of the day" on Fridays.) The Feast of the Seven Fishes tradition celebrates this abstinence requirement with a huge meal, spread throughout the evening, in anticipation of midnight and Christmas Day.
The tradition has become popular around the world with families who welcome the opportunity gather friends and relatives to celebrate, and to prepare and enjoy special food.
The meal itself may include seven or more specific fishes that are considered traditional. The most famous dish Southern Italians are known for is baccalà (salted cod fish). Celebrating with a simple fish such as baccalà is a tradition that recognizes the relative poverty of Southern Italy.
Fried smelts, calamari and other types of seafood have been incorporated into the Christmas Eve dinner over the years. The meal's components may include some combination of anchovies, whiting, lobster, sardines, dried salt cod, smelts, eels, squid, octopus, shrimp, mussels and clams. The menu may also include pastas, vegetables, baked or fried kale patties, baked goods and homemade wine.