Feast of the Seven Fishes facts for kids
Origins and tradition
The Feast of the Seven Fishes is part of the Italian-American Christmas Eve celebration, although it is not called that in Italy and is not a "feast" in the sense of "holiday," but rather a grand meal. Christmas Eve is a vigil or fasting day, and the abundance of seafood reflects the observance of abstinence from meat until the feast of Christmas Day itself.
Today, the meal typically consists of seven different seafood dishes. The tradition comes from Southern Italy, where it is known as The Vigil (La Vigilia). This celebration commemorates the wait, the Vigilia di Natale, for the midnight birth of the baby Jesus. It was introduced in the United States by Southern Italian immigrants in New York City's Little Italy in the late 1800s.
The long tradition of eating seafood on Christmas Eve dates from the Roman Catholic tradition of abstaining from eating meat on the eve of a feast day. As no meat or animal fat could be used on such days, observant Catholics would instead eat fish (typically fried in oil).
It is unclear when or where the term "Feast of the Seven Fishes" was popularized. The meal includes seven or more fishes that are considered traditional. "Seven fishes" as a fixed concept or name is unknown in Italy itself. In some Italian-American families, there is no count of the number of fish dishes.
A well-known dish is baccalà (salted cod fish). The custom of celebrating with a simple fish such as baccalà reflects customs in what were historically impoverished regions of Southern Italy, as well as seasonal factors. Fried smelts, calamari and other types of seafood have been incorporated into the Christmas Eve dinner over the years.
The number seven may come from the seven Sacraments of the Catholic Church, or the seven hills of Rome, or something else. There is no general agreement on its meaning.
The meal's components may include some combination of anchovies, whiting, lobster, sardines, baccalà (dried salt cod), smelts, eels, squid, octopus, shrimp, mussels and clams. The menu may also include pasta, vegetables, baked goods and wine.
- Baccalà (salt cod) with pasta, as a salad or fried
- Baked cod
- Clams casino
- Cod fish balls in tomato sauce
- Coryphaena (dolphinfish)
- Deep fried calamari
- Deep fried cod
- Deep fried fish/shrimp
- Deep fried scallops
- Fried smelts
- Insalata di mare (seafood salad)
- Linguine with anchovy, clam, lobster, tuna, or crab sauce
- Marinated or fried eel
- Octopus salad
- Oyster shooters
- Puttanesca traditional tomato sauce with anchovies
- Scungilli salad (sea snail)
- Shrimp cocktail
- Stuffed calamari in tomato sauce
- Stuffed-baked lobsters
- Stuffed-baked quahogs
Feast of the Seven Fishes Facts for Kids. Kiddle Encyclopedia.