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Culture Recipes Seafood

Here’s Why Italians Eat Fish on Christmas Eve

if you grew up in an Italian or Italian-American home, you know that Christmas means fish, fish, and MORE FISH! Crab legs, clams, calamari, squid, shrimp, and MORE! Nevertheless, many are unaware of why Italians eat fish on Christmas in the first place! If you want to better understand the tradition, keep on reading!

The feast of the 7 fishes is often considered one of the most salient Italian traditions with Italian families worldwide celebrating it. The tradition consists of family members enjoying 7 different types of fish or 2 different types of fish that have been cooked in 7 different ways. It is interesting to understand that although the Feast of the 7 Fishes is celebrated in many English speaking countries with Italians, it is not celebrated across Italy. Surprising to many, the Feast of the 7 Fishes is most commonly celebrated in southern regions of Italy including Sicily and Calabria. So why do Italians eat fish around Christmas and why do they eat it on Christmas Eve instead of Christmas day?

This tradition is actually related to the Catholic religion. Catholics were not to eat any animal products, including butter, on holy days, or on Fridays. Christmas Eve is one of the days where practicing Catholics were to abstain from eating meat, and fish is one tasty alternative. On Christmas Eve, Italians would eat fish that was cooked in oil instead of butter.

Many also wonder why Italians eat 7 different types of fish on Christmas Eve. Although there is not one known reason, many believe it is because the number 7 is symbolic. 7 is often considered to be God’s number. However, other families actually eat 10 fish to signify the stations of the cross and others eat 12 referring to the apostles.

Italians eat all different types of fish on Christmas Eve, some of which include the following:

  • Baked Cod
  • Fried shrimp
  • Crab Legs
  • Baccala
  • Fried Smelts
  • Marinated eel
  • Calamari
  • Octopus Salad
  • Muscles with White Wine
  • Fried Calamari

The Feast of the Seven Fishes is a beautiful tradition filled with great food, laughter, and joy.

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