Feast of the Seven Fishes: A Brief History

This traditional Italian dinner actually originated in America. 

While the Feast of the Seven Fishes isn’t known in every American household, if you are Italian or know someone who is, you will know this is the main event at Christmas! Typically the dinner will consist of seven courses of either a variety of seafood or a few fish prepared in a variety of ways. 

Regardless if you are Italian, or are just a big time seafood lover, here is a little backstory on this tradition that you can share around the table this Christmas Eve.

Believe it or not, this tradition is 100% American! It makes sense once you realize how many different regions there are in Italy. Some focus on pasta and meat on Christmas Eve, others on gnocchi or fish soup. While there is no official start date to this tradition, it is believed that Italian immigrants to America started it back in the 1900s as a fond memory of home. Today it is a custom in Italian homes across the country.

Why fish on Christmas Eve? This goes back centuries because of the Roman Catholic custom of no meat or dairy before certain holidays, including Christmas. And why seven? Well, there are 735 mentions of the number seven in the bible! It took seven day to create the Earth, the seven deadly sins,  it is the number of completeness and perfection. So seven courses it is!

While the menu for this legendary dinner can be large and diverse, there are a few items that seem to be mainstays. Those include:

  • Lobster
  • Baked Clams
  • Scungilli (Baked conch)
  • Baccalá (Salted white fish)
  • Mussels 
  • Calamari

While there is no traditional dessert for the evening, Zuppa Inglese comes pretty close. Literally translating to ‘English Soup,’ this is a light and lovely trifle that isn’t too difficult to make (after making seven courses!). We love this recipe

This year, try hosting a Seven Fishes dinner. Bring out the prosecco, put on America’s favorite Italian singer, Frank Sinatra, and check out The New York Times for a wide variety of recipes to make the night ‘perfecto’!