For most of my life, Christmas Eve was all about the Feast of the Seven Fishes. Once my older son took over hosting on Christmas Eve, he and his wife started their own tradition which didn’t include this one. At first I was a little upset that he and his wife were going to change it up, but then I realized, its their home and its time for them to start their own tradition, and THAT is what is important.
Where does the Seven Fishes come from? It is very common among Italian-American families. On Christmas Eve, family’s gather together to celebrate Christmas with a huge dinner made up of seven different fish and seafood dishes coming in all different types of forms. Of course there is anti pasta, pasta, bread, salads and desserts too!
The tradition of the Feast of the Seven Fishes stems from 20th-century Italian-American immigrants who, homesick for the land they left behind, combined classic Italian dishes with seafood. The sea was a representation of the connection between their home country and new one.
Seafood is also eaten on holidays instead of meat in traditional Roman-Catholic denominations and became another reason to eat seafood on Christmas Eve. The number seven stems from the biblical importance of the number and its lucky connotation. While many of these symbols are taken from Catholicism and Italian tradition, the Feast of the Seven Fishes is virtually unheard of in Italy and instead is considered an Italian-American tradition.
Some of the seafood dishes popular at our table were fried smelts, calamari, steamed shrimp, spicy crab and linguini, smoked salmon, and bakala.
While I don’t host Christmas Eve anymore, I still bring something with seafood to my sons. And this year we are passing the torch to my younger son and his wife! They will host in their beautiful new home. I will be making crab stuffed mushrooms and shrimp scampi.