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A Brief History of the Italian Feast of the Seven Fishes

Posted by on Dec 5, 2016 in Uncategorized | No Comments

Making and keeping family traditions is what makes holidays so special this time of year. The Feast of the Seven Fishes is an Italian tradition, not followed by every family but observed by many on Christmas Eve. While seven fishes on Christmas Eve sounds amazing, have you ever wondered where the tradition came from? At Illiano Cucina Mediterranea, we know that Italian history is just as important as the feast itself. Read on below for a brief history of the Italian Feast of the Seven Fishes and a basic menu of what is to be prepared on Christmas Eve.

The History of the Italian Feast of the Seven Fishes

Legend says that the Italian Feast of the Seven Fishes (Italian: Festa dei sette pesci) started in Naples and Sicily. It is an Italian-American celebration, a feast of fish, seafood, and family. Traditional and modern families consider family meals together the centerpiece of a fulfilling life. This grand meal is the traditional meal for Christmas Eve.

Many Italian families practice the Catholic religion and there are several days of abstinence in the religious calendar. The Church proclaims their faithful should not eat meat (flesh). The abstinence is to honor Christ who sacrificed his flesh. The feast of fish is to help us abstain from eating any type of meat (especially red meat) and dairy products on the day before Christmas. Put another way, it is the feast before the feast of Christmas Day. Many families eat seven, eight, or even nine types of fish! No matter what the reason behind the tradition is, if you love fish and seafood, you will love this dinner.

There are also quite a few theories as to the meaning of the number seven in the Italian Feast of the Seven Fishes; it’s been theorized that it refers to the Seven Hills of Rome to the Seven Sacraments of the Roman Catholic Church and the story of creation (on the seventh day, God rested). This long tradition has grown popular in the United States. Besides being a chance to serve recipes passed from generation to generation, it embodies the spirit of fun, the holiday, and the chance to be with the friends and family you love.

One of the most famous dishes for families from Southern Italy is baccalà, or salted cod fish. It is a peasant-style dish reminding families of their humble ancestry. Every feast is special to the family chefs who create this special meal. From anchovies to lobster, seafood and fish delicacies are the in abundance.  Here are some other popular dishes served:

Puttanesca – a traditional tomato sauce with anchovies
Scungilli Salad – sea snail
Stuffed Calamari – squid
Baked Shrimp
Deep Fried Scallops
Deep Fried Calamari
Insalata di mare (seafood salad)
Clams Casino
Codfish Balls
Shrimp Cocktail
You, too, can serve our family specialties to your family on Christmas Eve. We carefully prepare our recipes and can provide the entire meal to you with days of advance notice. Call us to make your Christmas Eve Feast of Seven Fishes. Illiano Cucina Mediterranea features a wide variety of different fish dishes and other authentic Italian cuisine for small and large gatherings. Call, contact, or visit us today.

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