Postcards from Italy
THE BLOG OF CIU TRAVEL

Feast of the Seven Fishes

Contributor: Rebecca Winke

In the United States, one often hears talk of the “traditional” Italian Feast of the Seven Fishes--an epic seven course seafood meal served on the Vigilia (Christmas Eve)—but if you were to ask an average Italian, you would probably get a blank stare.

Rialto Fish Market, Venice
(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)

Though most Italian households serve fish and seafood on Christmas Eve, in observance with the Catholic tradition of abstaining from meat on the eve of holy days, the specificity of the number seven seems to have come into being only with the immigration of southern Italians to the shores of the New World at the end of the 19th century.

On this or that side of the Atlantic, with Italians or Italian-Americans, expect to eat an eye-popping number of fish dishes on Christmas Eve. Click to tweet

Venezia - Mercato(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)

No one knows the exact roots of the tradition or why the number seven became so symbolic (though it is one of the most frequent numbers cited in the Bible), but most traditional Italian-American families have memories of growing up with elaborate, multi-course Christmas Eve meals (sometimes departing from the traditional seven to reach nine or thirteen courses).

Seafood Antipasto - Do'Batti, Portofino(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)

Venezia - clams(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)

Paccheri with shrimp and olives, Ristorante Alberto, Ischia(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)

Whether you’re on this or that side of the Atlantic, or whether you are spending your Christmas Eve with Italians or Italian-Americans, you can expect to be served an eye-popping number of dishes including everything from baccalà (salt cod), fried or stuffed calamari, zuppa di pesce, pasta alle vongole, insalata di mare, fried or roasted eel, sauteed shrimp and scallops, and beautiful baked orata or branzino.

Ristorante Alberto, Ischia(Photo by Concierge in Umbria via Flickr)

And don’t forget to raise you glass and wish everyone around the table (including the hard-working cook) a very Buon Natale!


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