Italian Christmas Traditions: Feast of the Seven Fishes

The number seven is a magical number in many societies.
The number seven is a magical number in many societies. | Source

Seven Fishes and a Magic Number

The Number Seven (7) is what is known as a Magic Number in many societies, along with the numbers 1 and 3. That is, these numbers, along with some other numbers in varying cultures, have special meaning and signify good fortune or good omens.

In the Catholic Church, which has been a major religious institution in Italy, the number seven represents the number of Sacraments in the church faith.

In the Bible, we read about the seven days of creation in Genesis, including Day Seven, on which God took rest. We are taught in church classes and Bible School, that the Bible meaning of the number seven is "perfection." Thus, Genesis tells us that the Earth and its inhabitants were formed in six days and God rested on the seventh day, looking at his work.

IN Italy and Italian communities around the world, these seven days are remembered with seven seafood dishes at Christmastime, the celebration of the birth of God's son, Jesus Christ of Nazareth.

At a church in Sicily.
At a church in Sicily. | Source

The Miracle Of the Birth

The special Italian holiday meal enjoyed on Christmas Eve is called The Feast of the Seven Fishes, Vigilia di Natale, or Vigil of the Nativity, in which participants await the midnight birth of the baby Jesus.

This is a tradition in both Italy and Sicily and consists of at least 7 fish-based dishes. Usually, pasta is a favorite accompaniment for all of them. Eating is stopped just in time to attend Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve Night to celebrate Christ's birth.

The feast itself includes seven seafood dishes, often featuring at least the following:

  1. Calamari - octopus or squid
  2. Scungilli [skuhn-GEE-lee] - the delicacy of conch, a sea snail.
  3. Baccalà - dried salt cod
  4. Shrimp - any kind of shrimp and their cousins, Lobsters and Crawfish.
  5. Clams served with pasta
  6. Mussels
  7. The "big fishes" like large tuna, snapper, sea trout, salmon, and many others -- Use your favorite!

Cooks and chefs often use sardines, anchovies, and other seafood entities as well to ensure that seven separate dishes are prepared.

Feast of the 7 Fishes, Italian/American Style

Three Weeks Of Christmas

Christmas in parts of Italy is three weeks long, December 17 to January 6, which is Epiphany. That day, children open their gifts, but until then, they go caroling and recite poems door to door. It is a wonderful time of year, with families gathering on December 25th for festivities and church.

What do the fishes look like?

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Shrimps and GarnishesConch Fritters and dipping sauce.Calamari FrittersClams and Pasta.Mussels ready to eat.Salt CodSnapper
Shrimps and Garnishes
Shrimps and Garnishes | Source
Conch Fritters and dipping sauce.
Conch Fritters and dipping sauce. | Source
Calamari Fritters
Calamari Fritters | Source
Clams and Pasta.
Clams and Pasta. | Source
Mussels ready to eat.
Mussels ready to eat. | Source
Salt Cod
Salt Cod | Source
Snapper | Source

A Beautiful Italian Christmas - Buon Natale

Feast of the Seven Fishes Contest

The Italian tradition at Christmastime to cook with seven different seafood species for Christmas Eve dinner after midnight mass is an ambitious challenge for a television cooking contest.

FoodNetwork's Throwdown attempted to use the traditional feast, however, in pitting Bobby Flay against the Pellegrino Family from the well known Rao's Restaurant in NYC, the city being home to a large immigration population of Italians.

The challenge could fit in only three fish dishes, though for this seventh season episode that is called Holiday Throwdown.

Early Italian Immigration Brought Us Great Restaurants

Rao's, the East Harlem landmark Southern Italian restaurant in NYC since 1896, is said to be the toughest restaurant for which to make a reservation in America.

At Rao's Italian Restaurant

A markerRao's -- 455 E 114th St, New York, NY 10029 -
455 E 114th St, New York, NY 10029, USA
[get directions]

Holiday Throwdown With the Seven Fishes

A Big Feast On Christmas Eve

The wonderful meal of several varieties of seafood and pasta is rounded out with many side dishes and the meal takes quite a bit of happy time in the sharing of it.

Side dishes for the meal include a number of home baked breads of various types, along with baked desserts.

Homemade wines are also served on the occasion of the meal by some chefs and hosts. The meal is a major event.

Seafood Ecstasy - A Seafood Pasta Dish

[Mailed to me by a friend]

Servings: 6-8


  • 1 pound peeled/de-veined jumbo shrimp (16-20 per pound)
  • 3 dozen black mussels, scrubbed very clean
  • 2 large cloves of garlic, minced
  • 12 large tomatoes, diced
  • 2 cups shrimp, lobster, or vegetable stock
  • Fresh basil and oregano, to your own taste
  • Parsley, chopped for garnish
  • Salt and black and white peppers, to taste
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 2 pounds Linguine noodles, cooked according to package directions
  • Parmesan cheese for garnish.


  • Sauté the diced tomatoes and garlic in EVOO olive oil for 5 minutes.
  • Add the herbs and the stock.
  • Let this simmer and reduce in volume for 10 minutes.
  • Add the dry wine and the seafood and stir.
  • Simmer all of this until the mussels pop open.
  • Remove the seafood from the pot and keep it warm.
  • Arrange the cooked linguine in pasta bowls and ladle the sauce on top.
  • Arrange the seafood attractively on top of each bowl.
  • Garnish with fresh chopped basil, Parmesan cheese, and parsley.


Cook Time For a Feast Of Seafood Ecstacy

Prep time: 30 min
Cook time: 25 min
Ready in: 55 min
Yields: Feeds several people on Christmas Eve

Please rate this holiday fish recipe!

5 stars from 1 rating of Seafood Ecstacy

Simple Salmon Dish

A simple salmon dish.
A simple salmon dish. | Source

Panna Cotta or Panacotta

Panna cotta.
Panna cotta. | Source
Click thumbnail to view full-size
Southern Italy at ChristmasMore of Southern Italy
Southern Italy at Christmas
Southern Italy at Christmas | Source
More of Southern Italy
More of Southern Italy | Source

© 2007 Patty Inglish

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Comments 22 comments

Stacie Naczelnik profile image

Stacie Naczelnik 8 years ago from Seattle

I rarely eat seafood (it is the only "meat" I eat), but this sounds yummy.

Guru-C profile image

Guru-C 8 years ago

This is a beautiful hubpage, Patty, and one I'll read again and again. I wish you a Merry Christmas! Warmest Regards, Cory

Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 8 years ago from North America Author

Thanks very much for the comments.

I love the traditions of Christmas around the world, Cory. :)

Bob Ewing profile image

Bob Ewing 8 years ago from New Brunswick

I am not a fan of seafood but these dishes do look good, great hub. Merry Christmas.

Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 8 years ago from North America Author

Thank you Bob. I like the seafood pasta better than some seafood by itself.

Zsuzsy Bee profile image

Zsuzsy Bee 8 years ago from Ontario/Canada

Great HUB! I love seafood! But the rest of my gang don't enjoy it. So the only time I get to enjoy it is when we go out. (It just dawned on me I'm on my own now except for the odd weekends when my scholar comes home) It's a habit I guess, not having seafood on my grocery list.

Great HUB as usual. I will try the recipes out when I come home after the holidays.

Have a very great holiday, Patty and many thanks again for all the great hubs.

regards Zsuzsy

Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 8 years ago from North America Author

Let me know how you like the recipe. And Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

gabriella05 profile image

gabriella05 8 years ago from Oldham

Being Italian I can give you 10 out 10, you have got it perfect from the tradition of the Vigilia di Natale to the recipes. You put so much love and passion in to your work, you should wean an Oscar

Thank you very much

gabriella05 profile image

gabriella05 8 years ago from Oldham

Sorry Patty I ment win

Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 8 years ago from North America Author

Thank you gabirella05. I would be proud to wear the Oscar of the Seven Fishes! It could be a pin. :)

manoharv2001 profile image

manoharv2001 8 years ago from Bangalore - 560097, Karnataka, India

I like the seafood

Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 8 years ago from North America Author

I like a lot of it too. :)

boston 8 years ago

I've been doing this tradition since I was a child as my parents did as their parents did. Christmas wouldn't be Christmas without it.

Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 8 years ago from North America Author

Thanks very much for shaing that with us. I think it is a wonderful tradition.

Meal Assembly Fran 8 years ago

On the shore of the see of Galilee our Lord fed the multitude with 7 loaves and7 fish. I think these traditional feasts are a beautiful way to reflect the abundance that is available to us all.

Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 8 years ago from North America Author

The spring season is a good time for remembrance.

Christine de Verteuil 4 years ago

I ate it at an Italian Christmas dinner, It was delecious,would like to try it this christmas at home in Trinidad.

Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 4 years ago from North America Author

You will enjoy it a lot, I'm sure, Christine. Thanks for posting.

James King 32 22 months ago from Madison, WI.


I am 1st generation Piason from the boot (Bari). I make my Spaghetti gravy very similar to your "7 Fishes" (except a nice red wine). I use chunks of pork (browned and tossed in), then, meatballs made with fresh parsley, Italian seasoning, garlic, grated cheese and Italian breadcrums. Brown and simmer for 4 hrs after a boil. VIOLA!

Ima' goin 'to try your recipie soon!

Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 22 months ago from North America Author

Thanks for your comment and suggestions - it;s a good time of the year to try something new!

erorantes profile image

erorantes 21 months ago from Miami Florida

I like your hub. It is fabulous that you know how to prepare and cook seven ways fishes. I love shrimps, calamaris and salmon. Thank you for your great recipes. You make it easy to cook. I am going to enjoy my cooking with your help.

Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 21 months ago from North America Author

Happy Christmas and New Year!

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