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December 11th, 2008

Thursday of the Second Week of Advent

Feast of the Seven Fishes

 
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Advent Eating…

A tradition of Sicilians and Italians is Cena Della Vigilia di Natale, a seven-fish dinner on Christmas Eve—one fish representing each of the seven sacraments of the church (or some say each day of the week.) The tradition comes from the observance of Vigilia di Natale, the wait in vigil for the birth of Jesus. Italians fasted until after receiving communion at Midnight Mass. In later years it became a day of fasting and abstinence, meaning a day with only one full meal, and with no meat and dairy allowed.

Some Italians moderate the feast, serving only three fish dishes representing the three Wise Men or the Holy Trinity. Alternately, the feast can have as many as thirteen courses, one for each of the apostles plus Jesus. Some have nine (who knows why?); yet others twelve.

Of course every Italian family is different. Some insist on having only fish—no other seafood—from swordfish to cod to salmon to sardines. With the vast secularization that exists today throughout Europe, most Italians no longer take part in the ritual at all. Italian-Americans are more apt to continue the tradition. Many say the Neapolitans brought it over, while others claim it was more widespread in the southern coastal regions of Italy and Sicily where seafood is abundant.

Some Recipe Suggestions:

Antipasto: an appetizer platter of mozzarella, provolone, olives, roasted peppers, hot peppers, marinated artichoke hearts, fresh Italian/French bread. (Typically, antipasto includes meat such as prosciutto, salami, or pepperoni but tradition is to abstain from meat.)

Seven different types of fish, including:

Baccala: dried cod which takes several days to prepare
Calamari: boiled squid
Shrimp: boiled shellfish
Clams: steam the shellfish until they open
Crab: more boiled shellfish
Whitefish: most likely baked flounder
Mussels/Oysters: shellfish, perhaps served al Diablo style (with a spicy tomato sauce)

The whitefish and baccala can be served fried. The calamari, clams and mussels are simmered in tomato sauce and served over linguine or angel hair pasta; or boiled, steamed or baked as noted above.

Alternatives:
Lobster
Lobster ravioli
Tuna fish & cannellini
Salmon & chickpeas
Swordfish (although, since it is a meaty fish some consider this cheating)

(Compiled from a variety of sources.)

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  • Rosemary

    Our Southern Italian family adds a large sushi platter to our Christmas Eve fish fest; great way to include a greater variety of fish!

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