Christmas cooking traditions in Italy: Feast of the Seven Fishes

Savory stuffed squid in tomato sauce during an Amalfi Coast culinary vacation with The International Kitchen.When Italians observe religious holidays, such as Christmas, you can be sure that food is often involved. In fact, since meat is not traditionally consumed on Christmas Eve (La Vigilia) – as it’s not on the eve of many holidays in Italy – many Italians make a big family meal out of seafood dishes, which you can learn about in a variety of our Italy cooking classes and cooking vacations.

A dish of Sicilian cod on a cooking vacation in Sicily
While this celebratory Christmas Eve meal is called the Feast of the Seven Fishes, it often features more than seven dishes. “Some families do seven for the sacraments. Some do 10 for the stations of the cross. And some even do 13 for the 12 apostles plus Jesus,” according to Chef Mario Batali in Epicurious. This seafood-centric meal is often prepared in Southern Italy, especially in seaside towns, and features such dishes as baccalà (salted cod fish), calamari, fried seafood (from shrimp to smelts), and baked eel.

See all our cooking vacations in Italy.

Pasta with mussels on an authentic culinary vacation in Italy.Of course, like any Italian meal, it’s not just about the fish. Many families also serve antipasti, pastas, and desserts, such as panettone, panforte, and pandoro. In other parts of Italy, rules like ‘no meat’ aren’t observed and roasted meats, such as capon, are enjoyed as well.

Before the family cooks and enjoys their feast, they gather together to open gifts from Father Christmas. Following their meal, they head to Mass.

While the Feast of the Seven Fishes is just one tradition of many during the Christmas season, it’s an important one!

To learn more about Italian seafood dishes, consider some of our cooking classes on the Amalfi Coast.

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Originally published December 11, 2012.

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