Christmas Eve is my favorite holiday – and maybe even my most favorite day – of the year. It has nothing to do with commercialism and receiving gifts; it has everything to do with family and food. Seafood, to be exact.
It has long been a tradition in my Italian-American family to have only seafood for Christmas Eve dinner. I have memories of my Nonnie (grandmother) standing at the sink for hours, cleaning the calamari (squid). I remember my father cutting open raw clams and squeezing a bit of lemon on them before slurping them down. When I was younger, I didn’t really know why we had only fish and no meat; I just figured it was “an Italian thing”. But as I grew older and I became more interested in world cultures and in my own heritage, I started researching the tradition and asking questions. That’s when I learned about The Feast of the Seven Fishes.
The tradition originated in Southern Italy where seafood is abundant. It started as a day of fasting – no meat and no dairy – and ended with a light meal. It has since been transformed into an extravaganza where at least seven varieties of fish are served, believed to represent the seven sacraments of the Catholic church. My family’s roots are in Southern Italy: Dad’s side is from Calabria; Mom’s is from Napoli. So our Christmas Eve meals blend together traditional dishes from both regions, with a modern, Italian-American twist. This year’s menu includes:
- Fish salad (includes calamari, shrimp, octopus, scungilli [conch])
- Linguine with scallops
- Fried shrimp
- Grilled balsamic calamari
- Baked giant prawns (one of Dad’s specialties; not sure of exact name but it’s one of my favorite dishes)
- Baccalà alla Napoletana (with a sauce of tomatoes, olives and capers)
- Tilapia Francese
Of course there will be the requisite appetizers and wine. Plenty of wine. And let’s not forget the struffala for dessert. The food is amazing but what I love most is the festive atmosphere. It’s a lively celebration of our faith, our heritage, and our family.
If you would like to have a look at my family’s cena della vigilia di Natale (Christmas Eve dinner) and our Feast of the Seven Fishes this year, I invite you to follow along on Christmas Eve via Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook. Just a warning, though: you
might will get hungry!
Buon Natale a tutti!