The FEAST of The SEVEN FISHES is one of the most beloved Christmas Eve traditions in most Italian-American households– as long as family members eating the ocean’s bounty are seafood lovers. While some people heard tales about Nonna killing eels on the side of the bathtub, two things are true for most: The Feast and the Seven Fishes is all about family and food.
The feast, also known as “la Festa dei Sette Pesci” in the old country, is a tradition that is popular in southern Italy. It reportedly started in Naples or Sicily and ever traveled north.
The number of fish eaten represents different things for each family. Those who eat seven fishes are representing the seven deadly sins, the creation story, the seven sacraments or the seven virtues of Christian theology: hope, fortitude, charity, faith, temperance, prudence, and justice.
While a definite meaning for the number seven is not known, some families eat as many as 13 types of fish. As few as three can be consumed, too.
Participants of the seafood bonanza indulge in “frutta di mare,” as it’s called in Italian, because Catholic Italians abstain from meat and dairy until Midnight Mass. Similarly, butter cannot be used for preparing the dish. Instead, oil olive is typically used.
Possible menu ideas include baccala (salted cod), scungilli (conch), pupa (octopus), calamari (squid), scallops, shrimp, blue crab, eel, clams, smelt, mussels and Anchovy flavored Pasta .
Some families make Cioppino, a seafood stew that can have has many as seven fishes in one bowl. There’s no rule about how the fish can be eaten. While some people might consume the fishes in one fish, others eat them separately, whether it be baked, steamed or fried.
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