What is the Feast of the Seven Fishes?

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  • Written By: Diane Goettel
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 11 October 2019
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The Feast of the Seven Fishes is a traditional Italian celebration that takes place on Christmas Eve. In Italy, it's also known as "La Vigilia," which is short for Vigilia di Natale, the vigil that was held until the midnight hour when baby Jesus was born. The feast is celebrated in Italy and by Italians throughout the world.

The event is celebrated with a meatless meal that consists almost entirely of seafood dishes. While the feast is most commonly created with seven fish and seafood treats, some Italian families celebrate with nine, 11, or 13 dishes. Although there is no conclusive evidence why the feast traditionally includes seven dishes, many people believe that the number was chosen to reflect the seven Sacraments of the Catholic Church.

Just as every American family adds its own flare and tastes to a Thanksgiving feast, every Italian family has its own way of preparing a Feast of the Seven Fishes. There are numerous different seafood components that can be used in the celebration and each family has its own unique way of incorporating the components into the meal. The most popular seafood choices are octopus, mussels, oysters, anchovies, dried salted codfish, sardines, eels, squid, shrimp, and clams.


Of course, each of these seafood options can be cooked in numerous different ways. Squid, for example, can be served up as pan-fried calamari. Or it could be served in a zesty home made tomato sauce. Another seafood that is often served fried is smelt. Oysters can be served fried or fresh, on the half shell.

In addition to the seafood dishes that are served at the Feast of the Seven Fishes are pasta dishes, vegetables, salads, breads, and baked goods like tiramisu and cannoli for desert. Some pasta dishes may have seafood added to them, such as linguini in clam sauce. Furthermore, no celebration is complete without Italian wine. Many Italian families make wine at home, and it is often a point of pride for many families and is made with great love, care, and tradition.


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Post 3

I've never heard of the Feast of the Seven Fishes before. The recipes must be amazing, particularly if it is like the Italian equivalent of Thanksgiving.

It seems like a really good idea, actually, as there is so much fish symbolism in the bible. Many of the disciples were fishermen, for example.

I wonder if the number seven comes from the five loaves and two fish that Jesus multiplied at one point to feed the 5000?

Sometimes people just seem to pick a number and go with that though.

Post 2

@bythewell - I do agree that some people use the bible as it suits them a lot of the time, but that doesn't mean that the people celebrating this Italian Feast of the Seven Fishes are hypocrites.

If anything I think it's actually a wonderful symbol of how Jesus changed everything when he came into the world. He was supposed to completely change the game, throw out all the rules of the Old Testament and make it so that people only followed him.

Having a feast on fish that were banned by earlier bible passages in celebration of the man who made them all irrelevant (or at least no longer law) seems appropriate to me.

Personally, I think at the core

of it homophobia is really a secular issue that people are forcing into a religious debate. And I think it will one day look ridiculous to our descendants, the way that slavery was once considered a religious issue and that seems ridiculous to us now.
Post 1

This sounds absolutely delicious and I would certainly love to attend such a feast.

I do find it interesting, though that a traditionally conservative religion like Catholicism has a feast where it's traditional to eat foods banned by the bible.

There is a passage in the Old Testament where God commands people not to eat anything that lives in the water and doesn't have fins or scales.

That includes a lot of the animals mentioned here, like octopus, clams, squid, shrimps and eels.

I don't personally count myself as being all that traditional and will gladly eat seafood. But I also don't use the bible to justify other things like homophobia or anti-abortion.

The Feast of the Seven Fishes festival seems like it might be celebrated by a few hypocrites.

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