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Why do Italians eat fish on Christmas Eve?

Question #8701. Asked by Marie.
Last updated Oct 06 2021.

Answer has 4 votes
17 year member
317 replies

Answer has 4 votes.
12 kinds of fish/seafood for Christmas Eve dinner. The reason being, one seafood for each of Christ's Apostles as they were considered 'Fishers of Men.'

There is also a tradition of eating seven type of fish, 7 being the number associated with God (6 with the devil).

Dec 12 2000, 10:33 AM
McGruff star
Answer has 8 votes
Currently Best Answer
McGruff star
23 year member
3694 replies avatar

Answer has 8 votes.

Currently voted the best answer.
The reason behind the use of fish, on the other hand, is simple: Christmas Eve is a vigilia di magro, in other words, a day of abstinence in which the Catholic Church prohibits the consumption of meat.

...a fish-based Christmas Eve dinner is not part of the Tuscan tradition - It's more of a southern thing, celebrated from Rome on down.
La vigilia is as far as I know a uniquely Southern Italian affair, a feast involving seven fish dishes. There's no specific menu to follow; each family has its own traditional dishes it brings to the table. In my family, there was always baccalĂ , sometimes two different preparations, a big bowl of shrimp and heaping portions of spaghetti all'aglio e olio, a small portion of which was made with alici, or anchovies.

The Feast of the Seven Fishes is a traditional Southern Italian and Sicilian event. Christmas Eve, known as vigilia di magro, is a Catholic day of fasting; no meat is eaten. Toward evening a family will traditionally break the fast with a feast of seven fishes prior to midnight mass. In America today, Italian-American families continue to follow the tradition of the feast, with some families adding nine, eleven or even thirteen fishes. The seven is believed to represent the seven sacraments.


Response last updated by satguru on Oct 06 2021.
Dec 17 2007, 9:21 AM
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