Feast of the Seven Fishes for Christmas Eve Dinner Feast of the Seven Fishes for Christmas Eve Dinner

Feast of the Seven Fishes for Christmas Eve Dinner

What is the Feast of The Seven Fishes?

In Italian-American households, the Feast of the Seven Fishes (also known as Festa dei Sette Pesci or La Vigilia) is celebrated every year on December 24. This Christmas Eve celebration kicks off the holiday festivities with a huge dinner consisting of seven courses of fish, or one or two different types of fish prepared in seven different ways.

Thankfully, there are no hard-and-fast rules about the preparation of the Feast of the Seven Fishes, but the strictest adherents to the seven-fishes tradition will tell you that indeed there should be seven fish on the dinner table. But for the sake of simplicity, consider any and all seafood, including shellfish, to count toward your final fish tally. The typical "fishes" include baccalà  (salt cod), frutti di mare (shellfish), capitone (eel), calamari (squid), scungilli (conch meat) and vongole (clams). Fried vegetables are also a popular accompaniment to the fish—expect fried artichokes, pickled vegetables, fried squash blossoms, and other treats. Read on to find out how you can prepare your own feast this holiday season.

Pro Tip: Order your fish the weekend before your Holiday party. It's a big day for fish markets and fishmongers, and the seafood moves fast. Trust us, you do not want to show up to the fish market on Christmas Eve, you will extremely disappointed. 


The Origin of the Feast

The origin of the Feast can be traced back to southern Italy, the area that is surrounded by such bountiful coastline that seafood has been a massive part of the population’s diet for generations. The ancient tradition of eating fish on Christmas Eve dates from the Roman Catholic practice of abstaining from meat and dairy products on the eve of certain holidays, including Christmas. The number seven is rooted back in ancient times and it can be connected to multiple Catholic symbols. It has been talked about from generation to generation in Italian-American heritage, it may represent the seven sacraments, seven virtues, or perhaps it commemorates the day Christians believe God rested.


Planning The Menu

  1. It’s okay to serve small “tasting-size” portions of each dish. With this in mind, assume each recipe you make will serve 1 1/2 times as many people as it says: a recipe for 4 will serve 6; a recipe for 6 will serve 9; a recipe for 8 will serve 12.

  2. Plan for two or three courses to be cold or room temperature: there aren’t enough burners on the stove for seven.

  3. You don’t need a ton of side dishes; many of the fish dishes have one built in.


    smoked bass dip perfect for the Holiday season. Tasted bread alongside the dip in a bowl on a wooden cutting board. First Course: Snack Away

    All though seven courses can be intimidating to even the biggest foodie of the family, keep it light and easy in the starter courses to keep your guests hungry for more throughout the night. A common mistake during the seven fishes feast is making an appetizer that immediately fills up your guests. Baked stuffed clams, baked and raw oysters and shrimp cocktail are easy to start with before sitting down to plated food at the table. We recommend a fresh lemon smoked trout dip. Pair the dip with crunchy toasted bread cut up, drizzled with Italian olive oil, and sprinkled with salt and pepper to perfect this historic duo. Click here to find everything you need to make this creamy, dreamy, dip to start of your feast.


    Seafood salad featuring shrimp lettuce tomatoes and fruit Second Course: Refreshing Light Salad

    A cold seafood salad with traditional Italian greens like endives, arugula and radicchio is an ideal way to move into the more substantial courses and the red and green colors are holiday appropriate. This salad is a perfect blend that incorporates all seven types of fish into one delicious dish, keeping your guests satisfied, yet hungry for more. 

    Pro Tip: If you are worried about your guests filling up, keep limoncello or a lemon flavored sorbet on hand as a palate cleanser in between courses to keep your guests tastebuds balanced and prepared for the remaining five courses.

     A simple beautiful and elegant combination of fruit, fish, and flowers. This fish tartar is bright with pink and yellow colors. On the plate there is a few dipping sauces all beautifully painted on the plate like a canvas. Third Course: Go Big Or Go Home!

    This is your chance to impress your guests with a stunner of a plate. Choose center-cut fillets of fish like cod, salmon, or bass. To really elevate the flavors, make it a composed and colorful dish with vegetables, beans, or a light grain. A jaw-dropping dish that will satisfy all tastebuds while keeping your guests eager for the final four courses to come is a citrus infused fish tartar served with fresh sea bass. This third course dish is easy to make, and requires no oven. Simply add some lightly salted chips to balance out the texture and make serving easy! 


    Seafood pasta dish including several different types of seafood, a tomato base sauce, and basil on top to garnish the dish Fourth Course: Pasta! Pasta! Pasta!

    You can't have an Italian based dinner without at least one pasta plate on the roster, it's the dish the entire party is secretly most excited for. Feel free to really venture out and impress your guests during this course, after-all it is the most highly anticipated. We recommend cooking a pasta dish that incorporates several different types of seafood while keeping a consistent and rich flavor. Luckily for you, this Paccheri con Sugo del Mare recipe includes: tuna, shrimp, calamari, clams, and mussels, while layered in a fresh tomato sauce that will bring you straight to the southern tip of Italy, in one bite.


    Seafood stew including clams, fish, shrimp, lobster, and other various types of seafood all blended together in a rich deep stew Fifth Course: Hearty + Warming Seafood Stew

    In this luscious, tomato-rich stew, you have over five different types of seafood all melting away in one mouthwatering pot overflowing with flavor. This dish is much easier to cook than you think, and even better, most of the ingredients can be found in your pantry already. From fridge to stove it takes less than two hours. An additional bonus about this dish is If you find you are missing an ingredient or two, this recipe is notorious for substitutions from different seafoods, to broths, this hearty and warming seafood stew is a diverse dish that is loved by all.


    Assorted fresh fruit sorbet, on a bright white counter or tablet. Flavors include: orange, raspberry, mango, and watermelon. Sixth Course: Palette Cleanser

    Five courses down, and two remaining. Thankfully, the hard part is over. Remember that limoncello we told you to have on ice in case some of your guests start to get full? Well, now is the time to whip it out, if you haven't already. Famously pair the limoncello with a light and fruit flavored sorbet. Sorbets are made without sweetener in refreshing flavors like cucumber, lemon, lime, or grapefruit.

    Pro Tip: If you are planning on making homemade sorbet make sure to do so with plenty of time to allow it to let it freeze and become hard.

     3 chocolate dipped Italian rainbow cookies perfect for the Holiday season on a white and blue painted plate. Seventh Course: Dessert

    As the cap on a seven-course meal, we suggest keeping things light with simple Italian cookies, and cannolis, or switch up it with a fruit and cheese platter instead. Regardless of what you pick it should be sweet, fulfilling, and the perfect taste for guests to take their last bites of a seven course meal. If you're looking for something quick and simple chocolate dipped rainbow cookies are a must love, and fan favorite among Italian-Americans everywhere.


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