Feast of the Seven Fishes

A typical Christmas Eve fish dish - fish salad
A typical Christmas Eve fish dish - fish salad

Maria Laurino of the NY Times recently published an article on the Italian-American tradition of serving seven fishes during the holiday season (the feast of the seven fishes) and here’s her explanation on on why many Italian-Americans prepare fish on Christmas Eve:

“The significance of seven types of fish has yielded numerous theories, including a correspondence to the number of sacraments in the church, the seven days of creation, the seven virtues of Christian theology, and a reminder of the seven deadly sins. Families have their own interpretations, perhaps based on the region from which their ancestors came; and the number of dishes prepared can vary widely — from 3, representing the number of wise men, to 13, signifying Jesus and the apostles.”

Like Laurino, I easily identify with eating fish during the holiday.  Since I can remember, my own Italian born parents/family have prepared the following type of fish on Christmas Eve:

1.  Baked shrimppwith breadcrumbs.
2.  Bacala (or salt cod) mixed with olive oil, red onion, and parsley.
3.  Seafood salad with fresh sconciglio (or scungelli in Italian-American parlance), scallops, shrimp, squid, celery, octopus, and onion.
4.  Baked flounder
5.  Mussels
6.  Raw clams
7.  Shrimp cocktail
8.  Fried calamari (there’s an 8th!)In addition to the fish above, our family prepares fresh zeppoli for Christmas Eve dinner.

There are also a few vegetables that make an appearance (baked broccoli with red pepper flakes, sautéed string beans with garlic, and tossed salad), but they are really afterthoughts as the fish take center stage.  Click here for our guide to an Italian Christmas.Laurino’s article reminds me of an important personal finance tip:

good food can quell material desire.  That is to say, if you fill your belly with good food on a consistent basis (along with a nice glass of wine) you are all of sudden really satisfied with life and can maybe even get away with not having a 42 inch flat screen TV, a gas guzzling SUV parked in the driveway, and the desire to head to the mall every weekend to buy stuff.  Try eating really well for a month and see if your life satisfaction level goes up!


  1. Recipe: Wild Cod Risotto, Summer Days, and Esino Bianco

    There’s something about eating good food outdoors that makes me feel utterly alive and happy.  It may be the fresh air cooling my shoeless feet or the sound of pouring cool Esino Bianco into a wine glass (have questions about…

  2. Carolyn Bottone-Post

    Thank you for this great article. I can’t wait to read her book.
    In my home growing up it was 12 fish dishes for the twelve apostles; we had bacalla salad, spaghetti with oil and anchovies (I, the uninitiated, called it hairy spaghetti!), scungilli, fried eel (I can still see them dead and slithering as my Swedish mom cut them in pieces to bread and fry), stuffed escarole with anchovies and pine nuts, clams casino, mussels marinara. In later years we had linguini with white clam sauce instead of anchovies, shrimp cocktail and, when really flush, broiled lobster. I happily had bacalla salad or linguini for greakfast for a week!
    My family tolerates fish but likes tradition, so we’ve made a few modifications: clam sauce or butter/myzithra; shrimp cocktail or orange segments in vanilla yogurt (kinda looks the same!) And everybody must partake in the bacalla (after all, they helped change the water all those days!
    Thanks Vincent, for this lovely reminder of why we carry on traditions!

  3. Awesome! I’m Italian too (Italian Canadian, third generation) and we always make fish on Xmas eve (no one told me why, though)

  4. Looks positively delicious, Vincent!

    • I’m not sure if the picture is from the article of your own making but either way, I’ve seen the pictures of food you make and if it’s not your picture, I’m sure you could make it look and taste just as good. 😉

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