Feast of the Seven Fishes: History Of Eating Fish On Christmas Eve

 In Christmas Food, Feast of the Seven Fishes

One of the most joyful times of the year is slowly approaching, and we can feel it in the air. Can you feel it? It’s a blessed time when we gather with our family to celebrate and enjoy our time together. Christmas time is a perfect opportunity to be with the people that mean to you, to hang out with them, create new memories, and to eat delicious food. 

This season brings a lot of traditions, some of them well-known, while others not so much. Every family has traditions and special little rituals, while certain groups of people share traditions with each other. 

Today we will discuss a unique custom that’s not that common. It’s a tradition of eating a seafood dinner on Christmas Eve. So, if you ever wondered why do people eat fish on Christmas Eve, now you’ll learn everything about it.

Fish on Christmas Eve – The Story Behind It

Even if eating fish the night before Christmas seems strange, it’s a big part of many religious traditions worldwide. Today we will talk about the one that originated in Italy and has become an adored custom of many Italian Americans. It’s known as the Feast of the Seven Fishes, and it’s still celebrated among many Italian American households. 

The Feast of the Seven Fishes

This event originates from the Catholic belief that you should avoid eating meat on Holy days. And the most important Holy day is Christmas Eve, so it’s logical to eat fish on Christmas Eve instead of meat. 

The Feast of the Seven Fishes is the name used in the U.S., and The Vigil is the name given to the tradition that originated in Southern Italy (La Vigilia). This event honors the period of anticipation leading up to the midnight birth of Jesus, known as the Nativity Vigil.

Who Eats Seafood Dinner for Christmas Eve

The Feast of the Seven Fishes tradition was invented in Italy, but interestingly, only a few Italians practice it. Today it’s only celebrated in the south of Italy and Sicily as La Vigilia. But the custom is present in most English-speaking territories where Italians live.  

This custom asks you to eat seven fishes for dinner on Christmas Eve, and later on, we will talk more in-depth about why. 

Fish on Christmas Eve – Why Do People Eat Fish On Christmas Eve

Eating fish the night before Christmas is a custom both Orthodox and Catholic Christians have; however, we will focus on the Catholic tradition as it relates to the Feast of the Seven Fishes.

Avoiding meat and other animal products such as dairy and eggs is a standard custom for Catholics during Holy days and Fridays. For Christians, one of the most important Holy days is Christmas Eve, so for many Catholics, eating fish was expected, as they were abstaining from meat and all animal products. 

This tradition also has a lot of logic behind it when you think about where it originated. In the south of Italy, as well as in Sicily, there’s plenty of fish. And you can only imagine the types of fish they have, an abundant selection perfect for making the best seafood dinner. 

Don’t think that the dishes were simple and that they were only eating fish, that’s plain. The seafood dinners were, in fact, feasts featuring many fish dishes and delicious sides. 

Some of the dishes that you can find today on a Feast of the Seven Fishes spread: 

  • Fried Calamari
  • Fried cod
  • Fried Shrimp
  • Deep fried scallops
  • Marinated eel
  • Cod Fish Balls
  • Baccala with pasta
  • Clams casino
  • Seafood salad
  • Octopus salad
  • Puttanesca with anchovies
  • Stuffed-baked lobster
  • Stuffed calamari

Why the Number Seven?

Since the quantity of fish consumed on this day varies depending on the region, there is no clear meaning behind the number seven. It’s interesting that the number part really isn’t a thing in Italy. It appears as something added by the Italians that moved to North America. However, it has been speculated that the number 7 refers to the fact that it is “God’s number.” Another explanation holds that the quantity of fish equals the number of days in a week or the duration of Mary and Joseph’s journey to Bethlehem. The seven sacraments and the seven deadly sins are mentioned in other theories.

Some households serve ten fish instead of seven to represent the Stations of the Cross. The holy trinity is represented by nine fish multiplied by three. However, the phrase “serving 12 fish” is usually used to refer to Apostles, though some households also serve 11 or 13.

Why Eat Fish on Christmas Eve?

If you are of Italian descent and are religious, you probably already know why you should eat fish on Christmas Eve. And now, even if you are not Italian, you know the story behind eating fish on this night. But can you eat it even if you are not Italian or Catholic? Of course, you can. Seafood is one of the best foods you can eat. 

Omega-3s, iron, B and D vitamins, and protein are just a few of the essential nutrients found in seafood that are necessary for health and wellness at any age. The vitamins, minerals, and omega-3 fatty acids found in fish and shellfish are crucial for a healthy heart, strong bones, a developing brain, and a strong immune system. 

To answer the question, “Why eat fish on Christmas Eve?” a simple answer is because it’s easy and quick to make. Besides the health benefits, it’s also super versatile, you can prepare it in many ways, and most importantly, you can make it quickly. You won’t have to spend hours beside the stove, and you’ll be left with spare time to relax and enjoy with your family. 

And lastly, it’s mouthwatering and delicious, and almost nobody can resist it. So, why not experiment a little and do something differently? Ask your family what they think about a seafood dinner for this year’s Christmas Eve and see how they react. We know they will be thrilled. 

Enjoy This Holiday Season 

If you like this tradition and want to try something similar for this holiday season or Christmas Eve, go for it. You don’t have to be of Italian origin to enjoy a good dinner packed with delicious seafood dishes. You can take inspiration from other people’s customs and rituals and create your own with your family. If you typically enjoy tasty fish dishes, this holiday season is the perfect time to spice it up and serve mouthwatering fish-based dishes. You don’t have to serve seven different types of dishes, but if you want, you can make even more. It’s always good to change things up and try something new. 

And if you are not the best cook and can’t find your way in the kitchen, there’s always Stiltsville Fish Bar to make your dreams come true. Call us today and book your reservation to enjoy seafood delicacies this holiday season. 

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