Christmas Eve is the holiday of the year for my family. We call it “The Feast of the Seven Fishes.” An Italian tradition that celebrates the night before Christmas with a delicious banquet of fish and seafood dishes – recipes handed down from mother to daughter to son.
So where did it all begin in my family? Although I’m sure it spans many generations, the incredible joy of this holiday was graciously gifted to us by my mother’s grandmother, Domenica. In the small hill town of Ferrandina, Italy she rejoiced in the spiritual and culinary legacy of Christmas Eve, and kept it close to her heart all the years of her life. My grandmother, Caterina, brought her mother Domenica’s tradition and recipes to this country in the twenties. And we’ve been celebrating it with much joy and jubilation ever since.
My earliest memories of childhood consist mostly of Christmas Eve. The tree and the presents to be sure. But it was always the gathering around the table with my parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins that was the highlight of the evening – a table laden with everything from luscious seafood pasta and shrimp oreganata to fried calamari and seafood salad and more. Afterwards the fruit, nuts, chocolates, pastries and coffee would arrive at the table, as we laughed and enjoyed each other’s company yet another Christmas Eve.
Today, my mother Mae keeps the holiday intact, preparing for weeks to be sure that everything is just the way it should be. My sister Santa and I join her in the yearly journey…from shopping and prepping to the cooking and baking marathon leading up to 6:00 pm on the Eve, when the doorbell rings and family come to gather around the table and rejoice with us.
The Feast of the Seven Fishes is indeed a feast. But for us, it’s more than an amazing meal. It’s a cherished legacy that we strive to keep alive. While it’s true that the tradition is waning as younger generations in our community opt for tree trimming parties on the Eve of Christmas, the celebration still thrives for us and lots of families like ours.
This is our story.