A Traditional Italian Christmas Eve with 7 Fishes

Wednesday, December 2, 2009
A Traditional Italian Christmas Eve is with 7 Fishes and as long as I could remember as a child I helped clean the octopus, learned how to make baccala and so much more.

This is a long story of my childhood and memories made celebrating the birth of Christ and the meaning behind all Italian traditions.

As the years went by, Grandma, Grandpa, my mom, and dad continued to instill their traditions from their Regions in Italy brought to America with their teachings.

Now as an adult and they have long passed on, I continue to do the feast of 7 fishes to celebrate the birthday of the lord, midnight mass, and food traditions.

The memories that were made are priceless, and although the food continues to evolve from generation to generation in taste, quality, and presentation, we still always stick to those yearly Christmas Eve special foods.

Our Italian family will always remember the reason for the season first and are very thankful no matter what our table has on it year after year we are grateful we have each other.

Although born in America raised in Utica, New York, (also referred to as "Little Italy") our values were instilled by our parents and grandparents and several of us still carry on traditions from one generation to another.


assorted fish for Christmas eve





my family in the 1960s


Christmas Eve Italian Traditions


For as long as I can remember Grandma Victoria and Grandpa John were the beginning of many family traditions.

When they both came to this country from Italy, Rome Region, they had nothing, and soon they built their lives here together having four surviving children who continued these family traditions and we were fortunate that our dad was one of them.

As time went on, they have passed down to all of us kids these wonderful traditions, and mom and dad made even more traditions of their own.

Now as the next generation we strive to keep all these wonderful traditions going strong, of all the many memories of years gone by.

The love and memorable times will continue on through the next generation and families to come.

A wonderful journey into our Italian Christmas Eve. Merry Christmas to all…with love.


grandparents from Rome Italy

The photo is of my dad's mom and dad: Grandma Victoria Ferraro and Grandpa John Colenzo Where it all began: "The YEAR 1927" when they came to America from Italy.


The "Feast 7 Fishes" could include some or all of this crab, lobster, shrimp cocktail, salmon, fried shrimp, scampi, fried haddock, fried scallops, fried and stuffed calamari, baccala (cod), the list can go on and on every kind of fish is welcome and yes more than seven on our table, so if any are missing no problem add them to the list.


As years went by we made everyone's favorite medley of seafood dishes which include White Wine Scampi to Red Veneziana with angel hair pasta, Smelts Fried and Stuffed Calamari and of course Cioppino, these remain a staple on our tables every year to celebrate the eve of the Birth of our Lord.


Grandparents celebrating anniversary


Natale," the Italian word for Christmas, is literally the translation for "birthday".



Years gone by, the family has changed and many have passed on, memories and traditions will carry on through our children as we instill these passed down by our ancestors.

On Christmas Eve, we still carry on and eat a meal of seven fishes, to correspond to the 7 sacraments. With the older generation, women in our family, it was an event to buy the fish along with cleaning and cooking it. All the women in the family would get together to do this. It was an important event for the holiday.


assorted fish


Feast of Seven Fishes


The Feast of Seven Fishes originated in southern Italy and is practiced today by many Italian American families.

In celebration of the birth of baby Jesus, many Roman Catholics do not eat meat on Christmas Eve. Instead, a feast of seafood and shellfish is prepared. Why seven different types of fish?

Tradition tells that it is because God took seven days to create the universe.

Always a huge night of fun and anticipation for Christmas morning to come.

We will have a shrimp cocktail, escargot, clams on the half shell, mussels, linguine and clam sauce, stuffed calamari, crab legs, and lobster tails. smelts, baccala and many others are added along with the 7 regulars.

Antipasto is basically an appetizer consisting of Mozzarella, Provolone, Olives, Roasted Peppers, Hot Peppers, Marinated Artichoke Hearts, Fresh Italian/French Bread. Usually, it would never have meat on Christmas Eve that would be added on Christmas Day with prosciutto, salami, pepperoni.


mom and me


More than 7 Fish?



Even though the dinner is called the "seven" fishes, we never let that hold us back from serving 12, 15, sometimes 20 different fish dishes. And the more exotic the species of fish, the better, too.

Number one on the menu was always squid stuffed and in tomato sauce. You've probably eaten squid fried, called calamari.

We also had eel, usually sauteed or stewed.

Of course, Mom always made a salted codfish called baccala.

Baccala is salted dried codfish. You had to soak it in water before cooking it to soften it and remove some of the salt.

Also on the menu were fried smelts (fresh sardines), salmon, tuna, baked whitefish, fried halibut, and fish stew. You really need to make what your family loves like we do all of it!

And no Christmas Eve was complete without vermicelli or capellini pasta with anchovy sauce.


One of the pots of sauce would always be going with a Traditional Sugo Sunday Sauce for the lasagna the next day!

Italian sauce tomato with bread dipping in the pot


After Dinner Traditions



Dinner will spread over several hours, and a family card game started around 9pm in the evening till had to leave for midnight mass, the family always loved a good game of old-fashioned checkers also.

The little ones would always want to open one gift that night, the excitement was overwhelming, so most of the time we would give in, had to be from grandma.


my parents and family


Our desserts were plentiful also


Starting with assorted nuts in the shell roasted (which we also would find in our Christmas stockings along with oranges), some chestnuts we would boil then roast, panettone, struffoli, a yeast-risen cake called Pandoro, at least 24 kinds of Italian cookies, cannoli, pusties, Crispell's, pizzelle, rum-filled pastry, fruit cake, torrone candy, followed by black Italian coffee and Sambucca anisette just to name a few.


Claudia as a child on a Christmas Eve


Religious Services / Midnight Mass


Some think it symbolizes the seven days it took Joseph and Mary to get to Bethlehem. Others think it symbolizes the seven sacraments in the Catholic church. There are other theories, as well. No doubt the controversy will continue long after I am gone as well.

Many Roman Catholics and Anglicans celebrate Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve. churches celebrate Holy Communion in a solemn service lit only by the candles of the Lord's Table.

So many years of family get-togethers, memorable foods that began a lifetime of tradition to pass on, and still today we look forward to what our ancestors started.

Our family brings the past of loving memories celebrating the birth of Christ, we never lose sight of the reason for the season and say a prayer for all our lost loved ones in heaven who paved the way.

Togetherness, in the kitchen, and with love, our Italian traditions and making more memories live on from generation to generation.




Here are some of the Region of Italy Specialties




ABRUZZO: Lu rintrocilio,pasta with a sauce of mutton, pork, chili, and grated pecorino.
BASILICATA: Piccilatied, bread with almonds.
CALABRIA: Quazunìelli, dough pockets filled with raisins, walnuts, cooked must (pulp of crushed grapes), and cinnamon.
CAMPANIA: Insalata di rinforzo, cauliflower, pickled vegetables, peppers, Gaeta olives, and salted anchovies. Fried eel is another favorite of all Neapolitans tables. While waiting for midnight mass, on Christmas Eve, people like to snack on fruit and mixed nuts.
EMILIA ROMAGNA: Panettone di Natale, bread made with candied fruit, honey, cocoa, dark chocolate, and dried figs.
FRIULI VENEZIA GIULIA: Brovada e muset,soup of turnips and cotechino, cooked pork sausage, served with polenta.
LAZIO: Pangiallo,bread made with dried fruit, candied peels, honey, and chocolate.
LIGURIA: Pandolce ,bread made with raisins, candied pumpkin, the essence of orange flowers, pine nuts, fennel seeds, milk, and marsala.
LOMBARDY: Cappone ripieno ,capon stuffed with a mix of ground meat, mortadella, and hard-boiled eggs. It’s served with mostarda di Cremona, fruit preserve spiced with mustard oil.
MARCHE: Pizza de Natà ,bread made with walnuts, hazelnuts, almonds, raisins, chocolate, grated lemon and orange peel, and figs.
MOLISE: Pizza di Franz in brood ,pieces of pizza dough, baked in the oven with eggs, Parmigiano, and parsley.
PIEDMONT: Insalata di carne cruda all'albese--beef filet tartar scented with white truffles.
PUGLIA: Carteddate ,rose shaped using an iron, fried cookies drizzled with honey.
SARDINIA: Pabassinas, sweets made with almonds, walnuts, raisins, anise seeds.
SICILY: Mustazzoli ,sweets made with almonds, cinnamon, and cloves.
TUSCANY: Brodo di cappone in tazza consommé of capon.
TRENTINO: Canederli ,balls of flour, eggs, old bread, speck, pancetta, and salami.
UMBRIA: Panpepato ,bread with walnuts, chocolate, almonds, candied fruit, honey, pine nuts, hazelnuts, pepper, and red wine.
VALLE D'AOSTA: Carbonata--strips of meat soaked in wine and aromatic herbs, served with polenta.
VENETO: Ravioli in brodo di cappone--ravioli cooked in capon broth.
ZEPPOLE: representative of the area of Sorrento, are small, fried ricotta doughnut-like cookies dusted with confectioner’s sugar that must be served warm.

An Italian Christmas represents the Birth of Christ with the celebration of family and food and although time passes quickly the memories are made lasted year after year throughout my life.

me as a child on Christmas Morning


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18 comments

  1. thanks for sharing this wonderful post!

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  2. Wow! What an impressive seafood spread! Your family tradition is a great one, and not your typical holiday fare either. Which makes it so compelling and intriguing for me, I love learning about cultural traditions and ingredients. I might just have to add some seafood again to our Christmas meal this year. Last year and for the first time as a Christmas meal we made our own sushi and some won ton soup, not your typical Christmas meal!

    Regards,
    CCR =:~)

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  3. Christmas Eve is always wonderful w/the array of the 7 fishes meals. Because of some issues last year, and really not in the mood to celebrate, but at the same time not wanting to but a damper on the holiday.... our main meal w/a zuppa di pesce, made w/10 different fish & shellfish, $150.00 pot of soup...for 10 people. OMG it was wonderful!

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  4. Lots of cool cultural info. Thanks for sharing! I just read an article in Food Network Magazine and they were talking about traditional Italian Christmas dinners. They featured stuff calamari. I LOVE Italian food :)

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  5. @Alison your welcome
    @Cajun Chef Ryan thanks for the kind words, we do look forward to caring on the fish traditions we all love to experiment but always go back to fried its amazing how simple sometimes is the best :) thanks again for your imput
    @Lucy wow your soup sounds terrific and worth every penny!
    @www.dhaleb.com that was my moms specialty, stuffed squid, we usually make this fried now, as the kids are not crazy about the one in sauce. thanks for your kind words.

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  6. I commented at Food Buzz but I was unable to see all the pictures. Just wanted to say I love them all & thanks for sharing!

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  7. @Bianca thank you so much for your kind words...appreciate it :)

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  8. whoa very delicious seafood platter! In my family the traditional dish is always ham, must have ham on Christmas day.

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  9. My husband is a King Crab Fisherman, and we enjoy fishing in the summer time , so we always have an abundance of seafood.

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  10. You are one of my favorite's . I love the stories you tell and what you write about. You are a true joy and you make me remember my Italian heritage.

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  11. My knees are week from these photos...what a feast you've got cooking up. I think I'd rather do the 7 fishes feast at your house than any other place in the whole world!

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  12. Have you seen the Christmas meals frOm different regions of Italy that I'm posting on my Facebook Cook Italy page?

    Many regions used to do fish meals for Christmas Eve and meat meals for Christmas day, though where they did the fish Ceneone della Vigilia, Christmas Day lunch was less important.

    7 is a strange number. In Southern Italy(only)the tradition is either 9 dishes for the 9 months Mary bore Jesus in her womb, or otherwise 12 or 13 for Jesus and the Apostles with or without Judas.

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  13. The Feast of the Seven Fishes has been my fantasy dinner for a while. But with kids in 3 different states they are never all home at the same time to make it. I may just have to make it this year, even if the whole crew isn't home. Your story has inspired me. Now to figure out where I can get all of the seafoods you used.

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  14. I have *always* wanted to do the feast of seven fishes but have family members who cannot eat seafood--this makes me think I should do a version of this with seafood-loving friends! I absolutely adore baccala.

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  15. Wow, that is so interesting to learn that 7 fishes is a Christmas Eve Tradition. Thanks for sharing your traditions with us. xoxox

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  16. What an amazing feast and tradition. I'll bet this is something your family looks forward to every year.

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  17. Thanks for sharing this tradition! I'd love to do a mini-version on Christmas Eve (as you know, Bill is limited on what seafood he'll eat!). It would be a heavenly meal!

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  18. That's a fine looking dish of food. I've never eaten capon but have heard my farm raised in-laws speak fondly of it.

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