Many Italian-Americans look forward to another holiday tradition even more than presents on Christmas. Christmas Eve brings a fish bonanza, better known as the Feast of the Seven Fishes, that can go on for hours. While some parts of the tradition remain elusive, some of the known facts about the seafood banquet have been shared below:
1. It's not widely celebrated in the United States, and not all of Italy partakes in the Feast of the Seven Fishes either. It reportedly started in Naples and Sicily — and never traveled north.
2. The number seven represents how many types of fish people are supposed to eat, but where that number came from isn’t clear. It could represent the seven deadly sins, the creation story, the seven sacraments or the seven virtues of Christian theology, the New York Times reported in 2008.
3. But what’s in a name? Even though “seven” is in the title of the tradition, as many as 13 types of fish or as few as three can be eaten.
'Cozze Fra Diavolo' Sautéed mussels in a spicy pomodoro sauce with a touch of annissette. pic.twitter.com/ob7WNUCA58
— Divieto Ristorante (@DivietoRistoran) November 17, 2015
4. Seafood, or “frutta di mare” as they call it in the old country, was the chosen cuisine for the Christmas feast because Catholic Italians abstain from eating meat and dairy until Midnight Mass.
5. That also means butter cannot be used in cooking. As a side note, it’s popular for butter to be used in northern Italian cooking and oil to be used in southern Italian cooking.
6. Need some menu ideas? Popular dishes consist of baccala (cod), scungilli (conch), pupa (octopus), calamari (squid), scallops, shrimp, blue crab, eel, clams, smelt, mussels and many other species.
7. Families can either eat most of the fish together in a fra diavolo sauce, or eat them separately, whether fried, baked or steamed.
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