Feast of the Seven Fishes

On Christmas Eve we celebrate the holiday with a huge meal consisting of many types of fish. My family’s tradition is to celebrate the holiday with the Feast of the Seven Fishes. This feast is typically celebrated by Italian Americans and until recently I never really understood why we only had fish on this holiday. The night before a holiday was considered a vigil and this meant that we could not eat meat so my family would cook a huge display of many types of fish dishes. My Grandmother told me that the number seven means completions, and that the number seven is the most repeated number in the Bible so seven fishes it is. It is one of the traditions you do every year because that’s the only thing you know, and you have seen your parents and grandparents do this for generations. If you don’t celebrate The Feast of the Seven Fishes, it just wouldn’t be Christmas Eve. You knew the holiday was here because on the morning of Christmas Eve the aroma of fish awakened you. The whole house would smell like fish for days. Honestly, I think my family cooked more than seven fishes but the more fish the better.
Our typical Christmas Eve started with appetizers: shrimp cocktail, fried scallops, stuffed artichokes, fried smelts, baked clams, fried calamari, my grandmothers baccala salad and the best of all Frutti di Mare. Frutti di Mare is a cold salad with shrimp, scungilli, octopus and calamari mixed in lemon and olive oil. It’s to die for!
The work that goes into this holiday is exhausting. The night before Christmas Eve my father and I would cook and clean 2 huge octopuses for the frutti di mare salad. Cleaning this octopus was the worst of all and every year my father found fault with the way he cooked the octopus. It was either to hard, to soft and never just right.
The appetizers alone contained seven fishes but we didn’t stop here. The second course traditionally is Pasta. My mother would make spaghetti with clam sauce and if you didn’t eat it you would get dirty looks for the rest of the holiday.
The main course is the best of all. My father would make stuffed lobster. He would stuff the lobster with crabmeat, breadcrumbs and his secret ingredients and when you took your first bite into that lobster Silence would fill the room. Every year we all complain that there was way too much food but without the traditional dishes it just wouldn’t be The Feast of the Seven Fishes.

Informant: The informant for this piece of folklore is my Aunt Bianca Formica. She grew up in New York all her life and comes from a super Italian family. My aunt loved talking about her Italian Heritage.

Analysis: The feast of seven fishes is a common occurrence on Christmas in many Italian homes. The informant told me that none of this was written down but told orally and practiced every year in tradition. I love this tradition and still practice it in my home and could probably orally name off all seven fishes present in our feast.