Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Traditions: Feast of the Seven Fishes

http://www.flickr.com/photos/49698777@N02/5289972947
So, this tradition appears to have an actual basis in one of my "old countries," Italy.  The feast of the seven fishes is thought to have originated in southern Italy, and since my grandmother's family was from Calabria, and my grandfather's family was from Naples, it makes sense that this is something that was carried over with them.  Anyway, I think it was.  I haven't actually asked either of my parents if this was something they made at home. 

My other grandparents were off-the-boat Irish and one-generation-off-the-boat-"German," so I have no idea what my mother ate on her Christmases as a child, but she's the one who makes our seven fishes now.  Our Christmas Eve dinners are probably the greatest meal we eat all year, and my mother, who does everything in her power not to cook most days, whips it together like it's no big thang.  She's a champ, and I really think she could hold her own with the best Italian grandmothers out there.

In case you aren't Italian American (ahem, Shelby!), the basic premise is that you can't eat meat.  I have no idea where this comes from - Christmas Eve isn't a fasting day like Fridays in Lent* - and the truth is, we don't actually follow it.  Our appetizers include lots of hard sausages along with fresh mozzarella, olives, and roasted red peppers.  But, the rest of the meal is meat-free and filled with seven different types of fish, one to represent each of the seven seas.  One day, I'll post some recipes, but for now, here's our list of what types of fish we usually make:
  • Clam dip, served with fresh bread during appetizers
  • Lobster tails
  • Crab legs
  • Stuffed flounder
  • Shrimp scampi
  • Coconut shrimp
  • A "grab-bag" fish, where my mother experiments with new recipes.  In the past, this has included baccala, trout and salmon, and this year, we're trying sea bass.
It's also the one time each year that we use the leaves in the dining room table, and set it with the Christmas china and fancy silver.  Even though we open most of our gifts on Christmas morning, Christmas Eve has always felt like the most special part of the holiday to me, and this meal is the main reason why.  Every year, it's the same,** even as the people around the table change, it always feels like home.

What special meals do you cook for the holidays?

*My parents and I share the same lack of religion, but growing up, we followed Lent under the watchful eye of my grandmother.  It actually wasn't such a big deal - Fridays were pizza day in our house anyway, and even now, I prefer eating vegetarian anyway.  Hearing coworkers at my last job complain every Friday about not knowing what to eat for lunch except tuna-fish sandwiches and pizza basically made me want to slap them.
**Unlike Christmas Day meals, which seem to be forever in flux.  We've had lasagnas, turkeys, and hams, and while dinner on Christmas Eve starts at a civilized 7pm, dinner on Christmas Day is more like Thanksgiving and begins around 2pm, when you still haven't recovered from your food-hangover.  This year, I'm gunning for a light brunch.  We'll see how it goes.

1 comment:

  1. Luke's family is from Sicily and we do the fishes as well- although it varies each year between 7-13. There were 10 this year (hoping I can remember them all):
    Tuna
    Smoked Oysters
    Smoked Mussles
    Scallops
    Shrimp
    Tillapia
    Smelts
    Anchovies
    Salmon
    Calamari

    deeeelicious. They don't eat any meat though- but with all the fish I don't think anyone would have room :)

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