In Italy, it’s called La Vigilia di Natale, but here in the US, it’s known as no other than the Feast of the Seven Fishes. This time-honored tradition of preparing a delectable seafood banquet to commemorate Christ’s birth takes place on Christmas Eve and is heralded by Italian-Americans as one of the most important meals of the calendar year. We’re here to explore its origins and our most favorite seven fishes recipes.

If you prefer video, watch the full episode 28 YouTube video version.

Collage of seven seafood dishes.


What is the Feast of the Seven Fishes?

While Italians celebrate Cenone, or La Vigilia di Natale (the Vigil of the Nativity) on Christmas Eve, Italian-Americans celebrate this night with the Feast of the Seven Fishes.

This feast is the oldest Italian-American tradition and refers to a day of fasting that culminates with a meal free from meat and typically includes 7 different types of seafood.

Some believe the 7 signifies the 7 sacraments of Roman Catholicism, or the 7 days of creation, while other theories point to the 7 hills that surround Rome.

Regardless of where the 7 came from, rest assured that for many Italian-Americans, there will be at least 7 different types of fish and seafood consumed and celebrated on Christmas Eve!

White bowl with Italian calamari salad and serving spoon on blue background.

Planning a Successful Feast

There are hundreds of dishes that can be made to commemorate the birth of Christ in true-Italian-American fashion but to simplify things, we’ve selected our favorite recipes.

In this episode, we discuss some of the dishes traditionally served for the feast and provide tips on how to get the best results possible.

For example, a cheat code for the Feast of the Seven Fishes is to make a dishes that includes many different types of seafood, like Zuppa di Pesce, which includes cod, calamari, clams, mussels, and shrimp simmered in a tomato, white wine, and fennel broth.

We also talk through the process of preparing one of the most iconic 7 fishes, baccala, or salt cod so you can feel confident about using it in dishes such as Baccala alla Napoletana, or Baccala Fritters.

Large pan of cooked baccala alla Napoletana.

Resources

If you enjoyed the Feast of the Seven Fishes episode, leave us a comment below and let us know!  

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6 Comments

  1. James, we love your recipes they are simple can’t go wrong if following the steps. Most importantly is to prep ingredients so you’re not stressed out putting it all together. I’m a 65 yr old Italian man who’s connected to keeping traditions like the. Christmas Eve dinne. It’s cool to see how you get the kids involved building a great foundation for them. You inspire me. Merry Christmas

  2. Going through your recipes now to decide which seven fishes to do this year – we change it every year but the tradition of the seven fishes has been for my whole life. I remember going to Brooklyn as a kid from NJ to visit the Italian family in Bensonhurst and my aunt would cook so much food and always the seven fishes. Thank you for your page – your food brings back all the memories and food from home.

  3. I’ve never had the pleasure of having The Seven Fishes. Maybe two fishes, tops.

    In the past our immediate family has often celebrated Christmas Eve by enjoying a communal dish of bagna cauda with all the good dipping vegetables and bread. It’s simple and fun. Love me some anchovies.