Something fishy about Christmas Eve

Travel to southern Italy or even visit a friend with Italian heritage and there’s a good chance that a vast feast of seafood will be served for Christmas Eve dinner.

Although Christmas Day is often viewed as the time for a big family meal, Italian-Americans gather around the table the night before and dine as they await for the symbolic midnight birth of Jesus (Vigilia di Natale).

The “Feast of the Seven Fishes” features similar menu components for many families. Cod, shrimp, mussels, clams and anchovies all may be part of the variety of seafood served.

The feast likely developed around the Roman Catholic tradition of abstinence from meat, milk products and other rich foods on holy days. Fish was often considered peasant food and thus eaten in lieu of other more extravagant items.

There are theories why seven fish dishes are ser ved (although some families enjoy even more).

• The number seven could pertain to the seven sacraments of the Roman Catholic church: Baptism, Penance, Holy Eucharist, Confirmation, Marriage, Holy Orders and the Sacrament of the Sick.

• It took Mary and Joseph seven days to travel to Bethlehem before Jesus was born.

• There are seven sins of the world: pride, envy, anger, gluttony, sloth, lust, and greed.

• Some other people have said it represents the seven hills of Italy, or even that seven is often considered a divine number.

seven is often considered a divine number. Families looking to celebrate the “Feast of the Seven Fishes” will certainly want to have baccala on the menu. Baccala, which is dried cod, is the most popular holiday fish. The menu can then be customized depending on the palates of guests who will be on hand to celebrate the holidays.

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2010-12-16 digital edition

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