The Tablet Jr. > December 2021

By Luciana Diaz, Grade 7

Luciana DiazItalian-Americans have a wonderful tradition called the Feast of the Seven Fishes, which they celebrate on Christmas Eve. Italian-Americans make the Christmas season all about an abundance of food. According to Paesana, ”The Feast of the Seven Fishes is the annual Christmas Eve vigil and epic seafood feast that has grown into the most memorable meal of the year in Italian-American households. Steeped in tradition, the Feast of the Seven Fishes is the centerpiece meal of the entire holiday season.”

The origin of this tradition traces back hundreds of years to the southern part of Italy, near the coastline, where fishing has always been a big part of the communities’ lives. The tradition was to eat larger and, sometimes, meatless meals throughout Italy. It wasn’t until some Italian immigrants here in America attached the “7” to the title that the Feast of the Seven Fishes was born. Before it was called “The Feast of Seven Fishes,” many Italian immigrants called it “La Cena Della Vigilia or La Vigilia, which means Christmas Eve dinner.

There isn’t an exact explanation for why the number seven was added. Many think it was tied to the Christian religion’s faith because the seventh day of the week is a day of rest in the story of Creation. There might not be an exact reason why Italian-Americans serve seven fish at the dinner table, but the traditional number of fish dishes must be around 7.

Local Jackson Heights deli operator Rosalie Di Giovanni shared her version of this Italian-American Christmas Eve tradition with the reporter. Mrs. Di Giovanni said that she and her family would go to Midnight Mass before coming home to enjoy the big feast. The Mass that she and her family always went to celebrated the birth of Jesus.

After the Midnight Mass ended, her family would begin the feast of the seven fishes. They had an abundance of dishes of many different types of fish. On the table, Some fish on the table were codfish, lobsters, shrimp, clams, calamari, squid, mussels, and octopus. To Mrs. Di Giovanni, “the seven fishes symbolize the Lord and are a part of a big and meaningful tradition that has been passed on for many generations.”