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Feast of the Seven Fishes

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The Feast of the Seven Fishes (Italian: Festa dei Sette Pesci) is an Italian American celebration of Christmas Eve with dishes of fish and other seafood.[1][2] It is not a "feast" in the sense of "holiday", but rather a grand meal. Christmas Eve is a vigil or fasting day, and the abundance of seafood reflects the observance of abstinence from meat until the feast of Christmas Day itself.[1][3]

Origins and tradition


The Feast of the Seven Fishes typically consists of seven different seafood dishes. The tradition comes from Southern Italy, where it is known as The Vigil (La Vigilia), but with no mention of the number seven. This celebration commemorates the wait, the Vigilia di Natale, for the midnight birth of the baby Jesus. The long tradition of eating seafood on Christmas Eve dates from the Roman Catholic tradition of abstaining from eating meat on the eve of a feast day.[1] As no meat or animal fat could be used on such days, observant Catholics would instead eat fish (typically fried in oil). It is unclear when or where the term "Feast of the Seven Fishes" was popularized. Nick Vadala, writing for The Philadelphia Inquirer found the newspaper's oldest reference to the feast in a 1983 article.[4][5]

The meal includes seven or more fishes that are considered traditional. "Seven fishes" as a fixed concept or name is unknown in Italy. In some Italian-American families, there is no count of the number of fish dishes. A well-known dish is baccalà (salted cod fish). The custom of celebrating with a simple fish such as baccalà reflects customs in what were historically impoverished regions of Southern Italy, as well as seasonal factors. Fried smelts, calamari and other types of seafood have been incorporated into the Christmas Eve dinner over the years.

The number seven may come from the seven Sacraments of the Catholic Church, or the seven hills of Rome, or some other source. There is no general agreement on its meaning.[1][2]

Typical feast


The meal's components may include some combination of anchovies, whiting, lobster, sardines, baccalà (dried salt cod), smelts, eels, squid, octopus, shrimp, mussels and clams.[2] The menu may also include pasta, vegetables, baked goods and wine.

Cannoli served at the Feast of the Seven Fishes
  • The graphic novel Feast of the Seven Fishes, written by Robert Tinnell (2005; ISBN 0976928809), has been made into a feature film also titled Feast of the Seven Fishes, featuring Skyler Gisondo and Madison Iseman, released 15 November 2019.[6]
  • Iron Chef Showdown had the feast of the seven fishes as a secret ingredient.[7]
  • The Bear, season 2, Episode 6: the Berzatto family meet for a Feast of the Seven Fishes: a traumatic, dysfunctional flashback where they argue at one point over the ambiguous origins of the feast — and where one guest brings an eighth fish dish, thrown out because it could ostensibly bring bad luck. The fishes also end up as a final dish for The Bear.[8]
  • If You Give Me Seven Fishes a song written and performed by artist Tony Trov in the style of Louis Prima was released on Spotify, Apple Music and Youtube in 2023.[9][10]

See also



  1. ^ a b c d Melissa Clark (16 December 2013). "Surf's Up on Christmas Eve. Feasting on Fish to the Seventh Degree". The New York Times. Retrieved 30 December 2013. It's a Southern Italian (and now Italian-American) custom in which a grand meal of at least seven different kinds of seafood is served before midnight Mass The fish part comes from the Catholic practice of abstaining from meat on Christmas Eve, while the number may refer to the seven sacraments.
  2. ^ a b c Craig Claiborne (16 December 1987). "A Seven-Course Feast of Fish". The New York Times. Retrieved 30 December 2013. It is a Christmas Eve ritual handed down from mother to son. Every year, Ed Giobbi, the artist and cookbook author, serves a holiday feast of seven fish dishes (seven for the seven sacraments). Each dish is cooked in a different manner – broiled, fried, baked and so on – or uses a different main ingredient. There is generally a fish or seafood salad and, inevitably, pasta served with a seafood sauce. ...
  3. ^ Marchetti, Domenica (25 December 2012). "Feast of the Seven Fishes: only in America". American Food Roots. Retrieved 27 August 2013.
  4. ^ Vadala, Nick (13 December 2021). "Where to eat the Feast of the Seven Fishes in the Philadelphia area". Philadelphia Inquirer. Retrieved 17 December 2021.
  5. ^ "7 Facts About the Feast of the Seven Fishes". mentalfloss.com. 19 December 2018. Retrieved 17 December 2021.
  6. ^ "Feast of the Seven Fishes". 1 November 2018 – via www.imdb.com.
  7. ^ "Iron Chef Showdown recap: Italian themed holidays reign supreme". foodsided.com. 7 December 2017.
  8. ^ "The Bear(TV Series 2022- ) - Episode list - IMDb". 13 September 2023 – via www.imdb.com.
  9. ^ Newall, Mike (7 December 2023). "South Fellini's hilarious new Christmas song is a ode to the Feast of Seven Fishes". Retrieved 19 December 2023.
  10. ^ DeLuca, Dan (11 December 2023). "All the best new Christmas songs not sung by the Eagles. (Plus some of those, too)". Retrieved 19 December 2023.