Sicilian Feast of The Seven Fishes for Christmas Eve

Sicilian Feast of The Seven Fishes for Christmas Eve

I learned early on that when you get married, you also marry your husband’s sports teams (at least with my guy!). Go Reds! This extends to cultural traditions too, especially if he comes from a strong cultural background!

Here’s what I mean: My hubby came from a large family of Italian descent on one side. He and all of his siblings identify as Italian, even though it is just part of their cultural history. Of course, we want to pass on the best of the culture, traditions and heritage from each side of our family. For the Italian side, this often means passing on the food and recipes.

To this end, I’ve modified meatball recipes, pasta recipes, and even biscotti recipes to fit our allergies and dietary needs. We’ve kept many of his culinary traditions and modified them to fit our family’s current needs.

Feast of the Seven Fishes

This is one Sicilian-American tradition that was easy and fun to continue with our family. It is called “The Feast of the Seven Fishes” in the US but simply “La Vigilia,” (the vigil)  in southern Italy. As the name suggests, this tradition involves making seven (or more) types of fish on Christmas Eve.

Chef Mario Batali summed up this tradition perfectly when he said: “It’s what Italians do when they say they’re fasting.”

There is much debate as to the historical origin of this tradition, though we continue it simply because it was a tradition in our family. The tradition of eating fish on Christmas Eve traces back to the Roman Catholic tradition of abstaining from meat on Fridays as well as specific Holy Days. Abstaining from meat on Christmas Eve would have signified waiting and anticipation of of the Christ child’s arrival on Christmas morning.

The number seven is also up for debate, as many families serve fewer types of fish (and some serve as many as 13 different fish varieties!). Seven is likely the most common number because of its strong historical and cultural significance in many parts of Europe, including Italy. In Biblical history, the number seven represents completeness and perfection.

Our Family’s Version of “La Vigilia”

It has taken me almost a decade to finally get into a good routine for this special Christmas Eve meal. As you can imagine, there is a lot of prep work and cooking involved! I’ve added a dish each year until I got to the full seven over the last few years. These are our favorite dishes and the ones I’ll be making this year for our Christmas Eve dinner:

Crab and Clam Arancini (Appetizer)

Sicilian Crab Cake Arancini RecipeArancini are a traditional Italian food, but I’ve added two types of seafood to make it fit with this meal. The name means “little orange” and they are small fried balls of rice that resemble an orange once cooked. They are traditionally filled with mozzarella cheese and meat, but I use seafood, herbs and peppers for a flavorful alternative.

Mussels in Wine Sauce

A dish that seems really fancy but couldn’t be simpler to make. Since this meal has so many courses, we only make 2-3 of these per person. The kids think they are fun and enjoy helping make them. I use this recipe and mix up the herbs and spices a little each year.

Shrimp Bisque

savory seafood bisque recipeA family favorite recreated from a soup we had in a restaurant. This simple shrimp bisque is really easy to make and has amazing flavor. Feeling a little fancier? Try the Savory Seafood Bisque in my brand-new Wellness Mama Cookbook!

Baccalà- Salted Cod in Butter & Wine Reduction

Baccalà is a traditional main course for this Christmas Even meal. Traditionally, this is made with true Baccalà- cod that has been preserved in salt and dried. Since this can be hard to find in our area, I’ve made my own version using fresh cod and salt in a butter and wine sauce. I’ll share my recipe soon, but here is a classic Baccalà recipe if you are interested.

Scallops in Browned Butter

I love scallops and they are a perfect part of a holiday meal. Our favorite way to make them is with a little browned butter, olive oil and fresh herbs. Since there are so many other dishes at this meal, we only make one per person.  My recipe is very similar to this one (I leave out the capers) and I’ll share my version soon.

Skillet Bang Bang Shrimp With Sriracha Dipping Sauce

All the flavors of the famous bang-bang shrimp without the deep frying! I saute shrimp in butter until cooked and serve with a sweet chili and sriracha sauce. I’ll share my recipe soon, but this one also looks good.

Side Dishes

Pasta dishes often accompany this seafood spread, but we keep it simple! I make a fresh salad, roast some broccoli and serve fresh fruit with a little whipped cream for dessert. This year, I’m pairing the meal with some white wine from Dry Farm Wines.

What are your Christmas traditions? Share them below!

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Reader Comments

  1. Thank You For sharing this post. My husband is from Sicily and we try to keep his family traditions alive here in the states. This is one of the meals we do at Christmas too.

  2. Thanks for sharing! I just learned of this tradition and would be interested in possibly doing this next year. Do you cook everything ahead of time or cook as you go along? If you cook ahead, what is the best way to keep some of the fish dishes warm?

    • I cook ahead when I can and refrigerate until ready to reheat.

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