7 Fishes on Christmas Eve


The informant is Italian-American and lives in Staten Island. She describes her family’s Christmas Eve tradition of cooking seven types of fish every Christmas Eve. She says that it doesn’t matter which types of fish are cooked, so long as there are exactly seven different types. Popular choices in her family are squid, lobster, and crab.


I asked the informant about the significance of seafood and the number seven in this tradition and, upon checking with her family, she replied, “In ancient times, Roman Catholic custom didn’t allow the consumption of meat or dairy on the eve of important holidays. So we turned to fish. None of us were too sure about the number seven, other than that it is a number that crops up a lot in religious text. If you couldn’t tell, this tradition is heavily steeped in religion.”


Growing up in Long Island, myself, a place full of Italian-Americans, I’ve heard a lot about the tradition of the 7 fishes. I wonder if it is practiced mostly by Italian-Americans or if it is also practiced in Italy.