Let’s face it, every family has a special way of celebrating Christmas Eve, but Italian Americans take a different route with their famous Feast of the Seven Fishes. During this Christmas Eve Vigil, families gather for a mega feast that includes consuming seven seafood dishes or several kinds of fish prepared in seven different ways.
This elegant Christmas dinner menu is a great way to celebrate the holiday with friends and family, from incredible Christmas appetizers to fulfilling main courses that can last for hours.
So, grab a glass and pour your favorite Italian wine and let’s explore everything there is about this special Christmas dinner. You might even be inspired to throw your holiday seafood feast this Christmas!
What Are Some Traditional Christmas Eve Dishes?
No matter where you are, Christmas is more than tradition and family – it’s all about food.
However, what is served for Christmas dinner often varies by country. Christmas dinner in the US is of British origin with mashed potatoes, gravy, cranberry sauce, roasted root vegetables as a side dish, and a stuffed roasted fowl (goose, pheasant, turkey, or duck). Other roast beef, beef Wellington, or ham are also served. For dessert, apple pie or pumpkin, Christmas pudding, raisin pudding, or fruitcake are great options.
Alcohol and cocktails, both alcoholic and non-alcoholic, are staples for family gatherings or Christmas parties. But eggnog, a milk-based drink often infused with alcohol, and the Puerto Rican coquito, a cocktail that contains large amounts of coconut milk and rum, are the most popular around the holiday season. Other Christmas items include butter tarts, gingerbread Christmas cookies, shortbread, and cornbread, baked traditionally before the holidays and served on Christmas Day.
What Is the Feast of Seven Fishes Tradition?
The Feast of the Seven Fishes is an Italian-American Christmas dinner celebrated on December 24. The tradition originated from Southern Italy (some call it Sicily, others Naples), known as “La Vigilia,” the short form for Vigilia di Natale.
The celebration commemorates the wait, the Vigil for the midnight birth of baby Jesus. It’s celebrated with a partial fast where Italians stick to lighter, meatless dishes, including a seven-course fish meal and other seafood options. Eating the seven-fish feast or the vigil meal was to break the fast at the end of the day before heading to midnight Mass.
Why Do We Eat Seafood On Christmas Eve?
Undoubtedly, The Feast of Seven Fishes is among Italians’ most popular and appealing Christmas Eve traditions. Seafood is the traditional choice for many, especially during the Feast of the Seven Fishes,
But why seafood, you might ask?
The tradition of preparing fish on Christmas Eve originated from the Catholic rituals of fasting or abstaining from meat and other dairy products on the eve of certain holy days, including Christmas. As no meat could be consumed during this period, fish cooked in oil would be eaten instead of meat. The tradition comes from Sothern Italy and Sicily, known as The Vigil (La Vigilia).
The meal includes seven or more fish. The number seven has no exact meaning, but it has been hypothesized that it may be rooted back in ancient and may be connected to multiple scenarios, including the seven hills of Rome or the number of Roman Catholic Sacraments. Other theories include references to the number of days a week – the actual time it took Mary and Joseph to travel to Bethlehem.
What’s The Best Fish to Serve On Christmas Eve?
Like every other American household adds its unique tastes to a memorable ceremony, each Italian family has a unique way of celebrating the Feast of the Seven Fishes. Below are the most popular fish and other dishes you’re likely to find in a Christmas Eve feast at an Italian or American household.
Baccala (dried cod) – A salted cod-type white fish is an ideal option
Side of salmon – The dill marinated option with mustard sauce is great
Scallops – Sea scallops have a firm texture and sweet flavor, which makes them an excellent seafood stew option
Calamari (squid) – They consist of the tentacles and rings of the squid. You can use calamari in a chilled seafood salad or even fry it until crispy and serve it with marinara sauce.
Crab – Maine crab meat makes a perfect starter tossed with basil, fresh tomatoes, and garlic. Serve it chilled.
Shrimp – Wild shrimp served with ginger remoulade sauce or over angel hair pasta is a hit.
Baked Clams – A few baked clams are excellent appetizers to your holiday spread.
Smelts – The tiny fried smelts that can be consumed whole. They can be pleasantly oily and perfectly salty.
Lobster – The supple flesh can be enjoyed straight from the steamed shell. You can serve it with a starter like a crisp fennel salad or a spicy sauce. Here is a detailed guide to grilling a lobster to perfection.
A whole fish – Whether grilled or in an oven, one or two who fish in a salt crust is an excellent addition to the feast. Here is a step-by-step recipe for roasted whole fish.
Mussels or oyster – Bowls of mussels cooked as part of a seafood stew or steamed with white wine and herbs and served with a light tomato sauce can be a great option for the traditional dinner.
It is worth noting that while it’s commonly referred to as the Feast of the Seven Fishes, the feast also includes other dishes apart from fish. Desserts, side dishes, pasta dishes, appetizers, vegetables, bread, baked goods, and other fish accompany the meal.
Celebrate This Christmas Eve in Style with Maine Seafood Options!
Whether you stick to the “seven fishes” tradition or keep it simple with one or two seafood options, we will help you ship any seafood you want right to your doorstep. We also offer curbside pick-up at our South Portland location if you live locally – call for details and to place your order over the phone! Contact us today or shop online to get your order ready!