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.