The Feast of the Seven Fishes AKA The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year For Italians

Christmas is one of the only holidays that recognizes the day before the holiday, too - Christmas Eve. How do most people spend this day? You may wrap your presents, bake cookies, watch Christmas movies and start preparing things for Christmas dinner the next day. Well, us Italians do things a little differently on Christmas Eve.

Have you ever heard of the Feast of the Seven Fishes? If not, it’s an Italian-American celebration on Christmas Eve that originated in Southern Italy. It’s basically a big dinner that consists of seven seafood dishes. You’re not supposed to eat meat on this day before Christmas because it’s seen as a fasting day. It also celebrates the waiting birth of Jesus in Roman Catholic tradition.

You might be reading this and thinking this sounds boring, but take it from your favorite Italian - it’s so much fun! Many families celebrate the Feast of the Seven Fishes differently, and this especially goes for my family because we're the furthest thing from a traditional Italian family. It’s not only a dinner for my family, but a big party. Trust me, you’ll want to come to my house for Christmas Eve after hearing about it.

Many people who celebrate the Feast of the Seven Fishes also have a traditional Christmas dinner the next day, which my family actually doesn't do. We do it all on Christmas Eve, and we even open most of our presents. Why do we do this? It's because Jesus is not the only birthday we’re celebrating. Someone else very special to the world was born on this day: my mom. Since our Christmas celebration is done on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day is set aside for my mom because a queen deserves a special day.  

Our Italian ancestors might be a little disappointed to hear that we do eat meat on Christmas Eve. Meat is plentiful, and it makes us happy; I think that’s more important than following tradition. They might also be disappointed to hear that we don't eat “seven fishes"; we just have so much other food that all seven fishes would be too much! Also, ever since I was little, my mom hosted Christmas Eve almost every year. I can imagine cooking all of the food while entertaining my sister and me must have been hard, and I wouldn’t want to cook seven seafood dishes if that were me.

We usually have three fishes: scallops and linguine, shrimp cocktail, and clams. Plus, we have a lot of pasta dishes. Some years we've had baked ziti, baked lasagna and even pasta salad. We also have different hors d'oeuvres like stuffed mushrooms, cheese and crackers, and rice balls (my aunt makes them the best.) Of course there’s alcohol, but I have to wait two years before I can drink in my mom’s house. As far as vegetables go, well... does eggplant parmesan count?  

One of my favorite parts of our Feast of the Seven Fishes celebration is all the games we play. One of my favorite games to play is the Christmas oven mitt game, where all of your guests go around in a circle and each person has a certain amount of time to open a present with just an oven mitt. It’s really difficult, but also really fun.  

Overall, it’s my favorite time of year because it’s one of the few times I get to be with so many members of my family in one house. It’s a wholesome time full of great food, fun times and the people I love most. No matter what nationality you are, it's important to remember that’s what the holiday season is all about!