Ever since I was little I have heard about this strange tradition that my dads side of the family used to do. I talked with my grandmother in detail amount what the tradition entailed, and why they carried on this tradition.
My dads side of the family is from a small town in central Italy called Pelena. My great grandmother, Carmela Massmile immigrated to the United States when she was very young, around the time of 1912. Despite being a female she is the one that enforced the tradition. Often, in large Italian families it is the mother figure that is the head of the house.
My grandmother explained to me that this particular tradition of eating eel every Christmas eve was very important and special to them. I asked why eel? She explained that on Christmas Eve the Catholic Church does not eat meat, and only fish is eaten. It is unclear why eel was chosen besides the fact that my great grandmother liked that fish best. On the morning of Christmas Eve the whole family would go to the fish market together. They would buy the entire live eel. At home my great grandmother would begin to prepare it. First she would slice the eel as if is were a sausage, is round pieces. Then she would put it in a pan with butter and bake it. Despite that the eel was the main dish for the night, some other foods that were served were ricotta stuffed ravioli, and fried eggplant.
I asked whether any prayers different from normal everyday grace were said with the eating of the eel and my grandmother responded no. She said that the day was about the whole family being together the day before the birth of Christ and enjoying a huge feast of foods that during the rest of the year they never ate.