Author: Madelyn Kearns
The Feast of the Seven Fishes, or “Esta dei Sette Pesci,” is said to have originated in the southern regions of Italy, near to Naples and Sicily. As such, the first celebrations of the feast within North America were hosted by Italian-Americans of Catholic faith, who carried the tradition with them when immigrating to the United States.
Traditionally consumed on Christmas Eve, the “Feast of the Seven Fishes” arose as a way to fast in anticipation of the birth of Jesus Christ, usually observed on 25 December, or Christmas Day. The number seven is believed to be in reference to the Holy Bible, particularly the Book of Genesis, wherein earth was created over the course of seven days.
Among the “fishes” usually on the menu during the feast are calamari (squid), baccala (cod), blue crabs, scallops, pupa (octopus), shrimp, clams, oysters, lobsters and more.
According to popular U.S. restaurant and retail chain Eataly, the “Feast of the Seven Fishes” began gaining prominence in the U.S. in the early 1900’s because of what it signified for Italian-American families: “Italian-American families rekindled the Old Country’s Christmas Eve tradition by preparing a seven-course seafood meal (hence the name of the newly found tradition) that both made them feel close to their homes, while celebrating the sea, a major connection in Italy,” according to the company.
Last year, Eataly’s new Boston-based location, which is “dedicated to the sea and its food,” offered guests a take on the fasting tradition at its restaurant Il Pesce on Christmas Eve. The menu, crafted by Boston restaurateur Barbara Lynch, featured dishes with a variety of species including mackerel, baccala, lobster, mussels, clams, squid, scallops and more.