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La Vigilia – “Feast of the Seven Fishes”

Date 12.20.2017

The Feast of the Seven Fishes is part of the Italian-American Christmas Eve celebration, although it is not called by this name in Italy and is not a “feast” in the stricter sense of “holiday,” but rather a grand meal. Christmas Eve is a vigil or fasting day, and the abundance of seafood reflects the tradition of abstinence from red meat until the actual feast of Christmas Day itself.

Today, it is a meal that typically consists of seven different seafood dishes. It originates, however, from Southern Italy, where it is known simply as The Vigil (La Vigilia). This celebration commemorates the wait, the Vigilia di Natale, for the midnight birth of the baby Jesus.

The ancient tradition of eating fish on Christmas Eve dates from the Roman Catholic custom of abstinence from meat and dairy products on the eve of certain holidays, including Christmas. The number seven is rooted back in ancient times and it can be connected to multiple Catholic symbols: in fact, the seven seems repeated more than 700 times in the Bible. Also, according to the Roman Catholic Church, seven are the sacraments, the days of the Creation, as well as the deadly sins. Hence seven courses!

Sample menu with recipes