The Feast Of Seven Fishes: An Italian Christmas Tradition

Italy is the home of many notable things. Fine wine, real pizza, handmade pasta, the Pope. So it stands to reason that when it comes time to celebrate a festival like Christmas, it’s done so with a lot of food. In Southern Italy, the ancient tradition of eating fish    on Christmas Eve comes from an old Roman Catholic custom of abstaining from meat and dairy before Christmas. It was called the Feast Of Seven Fishes and even though it has religious links, it’s merely a celebration food that’s open to everyone. 

The number seven itself is also rooted in lore and can be connected to many Catholic symbols. In fact, the number seven seems to be repeated more than 700 times in the Bible. But even so, many families choose to serve up to 12 seafood dishes on the day. The tradition waned in popularity in Italy but in the 1900s it saw a resurgence among Italian immigrants in America who were looking to reconnect with their roots. Today it’s a major event in the homes of US-based Italians.

So what is served?

Ideally, seven fish dishes! But since that’s not always plausible, the concept of ‘fish’ has been extended to include any type of seafood. But how to get creative within that bracket. Here are some ideas to replicate a feast of seven fishes in your own home.


Cocktail Snacks 

For when everyone is still in cocktail hour, start with a simple crumbed or battered calamari as a finger food to get the night going.


Lobster bisque is a gourmet staple but you can create the same magic with fish, prawn or crab stock for a taste of the ocean.


An old-school classic like a Shrimp Cocktail can’t go amiss. This combination of soft, fresh shrimp and tangy thousand island sauce can never go amiss. 


A seafood salad is one of the most underrated concepts out there. Pair Italian greens like endives, arugula or radicchio with some seared squid or prawns for a showstopper


A hearty tomato-based stew filled with whatever you have lying around is a great way to get rid of your excess seafood and veggies and with crusty bread tastes like a dream.



Seafood pasta is a mainstay of the feast line-up (that’s the Italian heritage talking). Try a simple brown butter and lemon shrimp combo to bring out the best in all the ingredients. 

Fish Entree

Here’s where you should save your most prestigious fish to be the star. A simple baked or grilled dish with citrus and butter is enough to let the fish itself shine.