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The Traditional Seafood for Christmas Eve?

Does anyone know where this tradition started ? Or even why?

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  1. a quick Bing search takes us to, of course; Wickipedia...
    It is an Italian tradition.

    1. Who said it was a tradition? I've never heard of it.

      1 Reply
      1. re: GRAFH

        Ah, you might consider that just because you never heard of it, it doesn't mean it is not a tradition, just not for you. Open your mind?

        I am sure there are many traditions any of us haven't heard of, but that doesn't make them less real to someone in the world.

      2. The '7 fishes' tradition is specifically Italian - southern Italian according to the Wiki article. And many Italian-Americans have roots from that area.

        More generally Christmas Eve (the whole day) is a religious day of preparation for the major midnight Liturgy (Mass in RC terms). Traditionally that involves some sort of abstinence or fasting. In some traditions that may be a complete fast, others just refraining from meat, with fish and seafood allowed. Protestants dropped most of those liturgical traditions, and even in the Catholic and Orthodox churches the fasting rules have eased.

        In older practice, the 40 days before Christmas are Advent, and may even have Lent like fasting, while the 12 days after Christmas are the celebration time, ending with a January 6 feast day (The Wise Men or Theophany).

        1. Where I am in the world, we have no traditions about Xmas Eve food.

          1. I am Polish and Catholic and we always had some sort of fish on Christmas Eve then each opened one gift, with the rest being opened after breakfast on Christmas Day. I was told seafood had to do with Advent and Catholicism.

            My husband is Finnish and did not attend church. His family always had seafood and opened all gifts on Christmas Eve. He was never told why the seafood; they just did. He was told they open gifts first because Santa starts in Finland...

            1. The Tradition of the Feast of the Seven Fishes as from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Feast_of...

              "The long tradition of eating seafood on Christmas Eve dates from the Roman Catholic tradition of abstinence – in this case, refraining from the consumption of meat or milk products – on Fridays and Saturdays, during Lent, and on the eve of specific holy days. As no meat or butter could be used on such days, observant Catholics would instead eat fish, typically fried in oil."

              Being raised Catholic myself, there were many restrictions at one time about what one could eat on Fridays, during Lent, before Holidays or Feast days.....these restrictions have eased greatly in recent years,,,,

              1 Reply
              1. re: jenscats5

                For Eastern Orthodox practice, fish is a festive food within a 'fasting' period.

              2. The OP typed phrased the post as if everyone reading it would be Italian and readily have an explanation.

                4 Replies
                1. re: GRAFH

                  The OP asked if 'anyone' knew it, not if 'everyone'. :)

                  1. re: paulj

                    Nope, "the traditional" as if everyone reading that celebrated the same tradition. It should have been phrased "Italian tradition".

                    1. re: GRAFH

                      You may be reading too much into the question, since the location in shallots' profile is 'east tennessee, on top of a mountain'. That does not sound like an Italian-American enclave. More likely the OP has seen '7 fishes' specials on TV, and wondered about its origin.

                      I could have asked about the tradition
                      of eating lutefisk,
                      or opening presents on Christmas Eve,
                      or eating Chinese on Christmas.
                      or leaving cookies for Santa.

                      They are traditions, even if they are not wide spread.

                      The Wiki article on Wassailing starts:
                      "The tradition of Wassailing falls into two distinct categories:..."

                      Shall we start a subthread listing all of the universal Christmas traditions? :)

                  2. re: GRAFH

                    Do not feel badly. I was unaware of the Feast of the 7 Fishes, but did dinner with my Southern Italian neighbors this year, and fish was the main course. Asked my wife, a good Catholic girl, with 1/4 Italian blood, and she was familiar with it - even with all of her French influence.

                    Learned something, just the other day.


                  3. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christma...

                    Scroll down. There is a whole section about Christmas Eve meals in various countries. The meals seem to involve religious rules of fasting and show the main protein as being fish. It's not exclusively an Italian tradition.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: Cathy

                      Though that article has a lot more to say about Central and Eastern European practice (E Orthodox) than Western and Southern. Italy is the only Catholic country that is discussed by name.

                      There is a looser 'seafood' tradition in Scandinavia, including its infamous lye soaked cod. I wouldn't be surprised if other countries have special salt cod (bacalao) dishes associated with Christmas Eve (or Christmas itself), since that would have been the most widely available fish in winter in places away from the sea.

                    2. Can anyone (not you GRAFH :) ) confirm the Wiki claim that '7 fishes' is more of a southern Italian thing than northern? Has someone like Lidia (hailing from far NE Italy) ever discussed this difference? She demonstrated a couple of octopus dishes on the No Reservations holiday special.

                      1. As the OP, I thank you for your responses.

                        I asked because, for the first time, the restaurant were we eat on Christmas Eve had all their reservation slots filled much earlier than usual. The hostess said something to the effect that a lot more people were eating fish this year.
                        I hadn't seen the seven fishes on TV; I tend to read cookbooks instead of watching most chefs and wannabes on TV.
                        Even when we lived in New Orleans there wasn't talk of seafood for Christmas Eve, possibly because it was always on menus, regardless. (Now I can tell you about St. Joseph's Alters, etc.)

                        I do live in east Tennessee, which used to be a very poor part of the country and just getting fresh fish in here at reasonable prices is now possible. A hundred years ago, not so much. I could see oysters and clams being more transportable, but delicate fish, if they are ocean fish, aren't in the older cookbooks for here.

                        I understand our apple stack cakes, our affection for Benton bacon, even how we use ramps. There's also the large list of greens for spring eating. Sadly, our frost apple trees are few and far between.

                        Two other local loves: Banana Puddling and Tamales. Both go back over a century.