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Feast of the Seven Fishes

Celebrate Christmas Eve in the traditional Southern Italian style--with seafood seven ways. Buon Natale!

La Viglia di Natale

On December 24, Italian families all over the world gather together for La Viglia di Natale--the Christmas vigil--where fish is on the menu instead of meat. Also called The Feast of the Seven Fishes, the ritual of La Viglia has been handed down from generation to generation over the centuries.

    The Seven Fishes

    La Viglia's favored dishes may vary from family to family, but you will likely find an array of seafood that includes the freshest catch-of-the-day as well as clams, oysters, mussels, squid, shrimp, and lobster.


    Vegetables such as broccoli rabe and kale often round out the meal.


    Dessert can be anything from a simple cake to a staggering display of sweets. With its roots in religious observance, La Viglia customarily ends by attending midnight Mass.

    Oct. 21, 2009 9:54 am
    I am looking for a menu for the 7 fishes feast. Can any of you true Italians help me out? I will be cooking for about 14 people.
    Oct. 28, 2009 3:53 pm
    My moms side of the family is Italian, and I have never had any of these fish dishes on Christmas. Mind you I do spend Christmas eve with my Portuguese side of the family where we have Pork and Clams every year.
    Nov. 27, 2009 7:25 pm
    Menu from a Southern Italian: Sliced Oranges with olive oil and pepper Fried Smelt Shrimp cocktail Sea scallops Baked whitefish Cod Anchovy (Puttanesca) with Linguine Calamari tomato sauce with spaghetti Broccoli rabe
    Dec. 3, 2009 3:03 pm
    I'm trying a version of a 7 Fishes Feast this year. I live in Japan so it has a of an asian influence but I think it will be wonderful. I don't think you have to follow any specific rules or recipes. I just made sure I had 7 different types of seafood. Happy Holidays
    Dec. 8, 2009 10:32 am
    My dad (100% Italian) makes a marinara sauce with tuna in it as one of our 7 fishes--I love it and look forward to it every year! We also do battered, deep-fried smelts, although I'm not sure how traditional that is.
    Dec. 17, 2009 9:00 pm
    Both of my grandparents on my mothers side came over from Italy on a boat. The one Christmas tradition from the seafood family that we started eating at a very young age and still look forward to is Bagna Couda. You make this white sauce with sour cream, heavy whipping cream, margerine, LOTS of garlic and anchovies. You cook down until the anchovies almost dissolve and you pour over cooked cabbage wedges. YUM!
    Dec. 21, 2009 9:41 am
    I had no idea that this was an italian tradition. Last year my family and I (being tired of turkey) decided to have a seafood feast. We live on the gulf of mexico so it is easy to get fresh seafood. We prepared steamed shrimp, crab claws, raw oysters and my dad bought some fresh lobsters. It was fabulous and didn't take near as long to prepare as a turkey dinner does. My feet didn't hurt at all. You can steam seafood in a matter of minutes, draw up some butter, make a pot of grits(if you are from the south) and you are done. We enjoyed it so much, we are doing it every year. So if you haven't tried it, you should. There is also a southern tradition in the south to have a "pour out". You put all of the seafood with some corn on the cob and potatoes with the seafood crab boil. Then you pour it out on an outdoor table on some newspaper and eat everything with your hands. It is so much fun and yummy too.
    Dec. 22, 2009 9:27 pm
    I too will have some fish on Christmas eve. Leaning to Fried Oysters, Lobster tails and a white meat fish fillet in Red sauce
    Dec. 2, 2010 1:59 pm
    2 things--- first a lot of what we eat is just simply floured and fried, such as smelts and squid. Second the thing missing is baccala. Which a salted cod fish, my grandmother would soak it for 2 days, then flake it and make a salad with oil and vinegar. Served cold.
    Jeanine Raymond 
    Dec. 8, 2010 9:12 am
    How do I print out all the info on the feast of Seven Fishes, there is no url # listed as recommended to put in recipe box?
    doc ellis 
    Feb. 23, 2011 3:20 pm
    Where is the recipe for the feast of the seven fishes? Sounds great.
    Sep. 13, 2011 3:05 pm
    Mussels are great any time of year, and they are easy to cook. Italian Style is always a hit. Don`t forget the pasta.
    Nov. 22, 2011 7:57 am
    There's a great book called Angelina's Bachelors that has a full menu in it for a Feast, including some very good, easy to make recipes
    Dec. 6, 2011 3:34 pm
    I love La Vigilia and always do the feast at my home. Christmas Eve was when I met my future husbands WHOLE Italian family and I have very fond memories of being lovingly attacked by what felt like a thousand black haired ladies all talking at once. And sitting down to wonderful meal of fried smelts, liguine with Tuna sauce, stuffed artichokes with shrimp and stuffed squid (so delish) and apple fitters by Auntie MArie and of course all the wonderful Italian desserts. And you ATE and ate right up until Midnight Mass. It was hard to get a communion wafer down. Then back to the house for more food and coffee. Miss you all hope you are feasting in Heaven or wherever you are Uncle Tony, Uncle Joe, Auntie Marie, Uncle Joe, Uncle Alberto, Aunt Angelina, Gramma Chris, Gampa John and to all. Buon Natale!
    Sep. 16, 2012 7:32 pm
    My parents came to this country on a ship through Ellis Island. They came separately and met here. My Dad was born in Introdaqua, Abbruzzi(1904); my Mom in Rose, Calabria(1912). My grandmother cooked at least 7 fish dishes for the Christmas Eve dinner. Everything from Baccala sauce to snail salad. Don't forget the fried eel! I know the family is together somewhere watching me cook each year. Buona Natale.
    Dec. 13, 2012 9:02 am
    My grandmother used to cook up a storm! She used to make fried smelts, Baccala, eel which never carried over after her passing. What we did enjoy was Scungilli (conch)as a salad with tons of lemon, olive oil, parsley. We stopped that when it became difficult to get Scungilli in California, fresh. We always make shrimp scampi, fried calimari (which, according to legend, would never spatter oil and burn you on Christmas eve) and my most favorite, maine lobster in tomato sauce (fra diavolo) and linguine. All this was followed up with Struffoli that grandma made by the ton. We now buy a much smaller batch from Ferraro's online. This dinner is wonderful to make for a crowd, but someone is always in the kitchen cooking between courses.
    Dec. 19, 2012 9:40 pm
    I've took over cooking Christmas Eve when my grams passed away..It's 25 years now I've been doing the 7 fishes..you can make anything fish you like..I change it up from time to time...this year I am making...Baccala, Shrimp, Smelts, Crab Claws, Fried Calamari, Flounder, and Lobster..At midnight, sausage sandwiches and sides dishes....Merry Christmas to all!!
    Linda P. 
    Dec. 23, 2013 10:53 am
    Both of my maternal grandparents were immigrants from southern Italy (Calabria) Christmas Evwas at our house (we made the rounds of the family during the year). When did somebody decide the name of this? We just observed it as 'fasting' from meat. I guess it was a leftover from the old christian times because the Greek Orthodox, when they observe fasting, it is from all blood animals and their products. We always had seafood; not various fish. That included the baccala salad, with lots of celery and olives, Alaskan king crab claws, shrimp (cocktail), linguini with oil, garlic, and anchovie sauce (o.k the anchovy isn't seafood) snails, kalamari,etc. and a very large salad and other vegetables. So whence the name 7 fish? I don't remember anyone counting. Anyway, it's nice to kno people are still trying traditional feasts no matter what they are called or what exactly is on the menu. Merry Christmas.
    Jan. 11, 2014 4:38 pm
    The best memories of mine are of Christmas Eve and my entire extended family. My mother and grandmother would cook all day--fish! We too had a tuna sauce that was delicious. Calamari, Baccala, Eels to name a few. Now that my grandmother and mother have passed away, I am in charge of carrying on the tradition. I feel their love with me when I cook!
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