In Italy La Vigilia, or Christmas Eve, is spent in the company of friends, family and a lot of food. There are many traditions associated with this night but none quite as well known here in the US, perhaps, as the Seven Fishes. The event of the Feast of the Seven Fishes is an Italian-American celebration based on southern Italian traditions of eating fish for Christmas Eve dinner. The number isn’t necessarily 7, but the meal is definitely entirely fish based. The tradition is a religious one that evolved based on the Roman Catholic’s preached need for abstinence from meat products on the eve of major holy days. Over the centuries this abstinence then transformed into the seafood extravaganza that now most Italian families serve for dinner on that night. While the consumed varieties differ from household to household, the one fish that is almost universally served is baccalà, or cod. It was one of the only fish that the impoverished inhabitants of southern Italy could afford and, therefore, formed the core of their holiday meal.
Growing up in an Italian household both here in the US and in Italy, La Vigilia has always been one of my favorite nights of the year. As I grew up I became more and more involved in the preparation of the actual meal. Under the scrutinizing and watchful eye of my nonna I learned to prepare the opener to our meal…stuffed squid in a red tomato sauce. We then serve this over linguine. I would always wait anxiously for her to take her first bite, when she would then turn to me and smile her approval. Even though my nonna is no longer with us, on Christmas Eve in particular I still feel her watching over us as we prepare the bounty that we serve and we all take pride in carrying on the family traditions unique to our Italian heritage.
To all of my Italian friends and family I wish you all a Buon Natale and I wish all of my friends a happy, joyful holiday season filled with love, happiness and family.