Yep, in keeping with my Italian heritage tradition, I attempt the “7 fish dinner” on Christmas Eve. Over the years I’ve had many people ask me, ‘What in the heck are the seven fishes? And why are there seven?‘ All good questions! Although I would be happy to regurgitate anything my parents have told me about the 7 Fishes, for you, I did a little research as well.
As it turns out, the number of fish can be any odd number (3,5,7,9,13…) but it’s always an odd number. The number traditionally settled on is seven, and for good reason. Through all of my research on the web I found many different stories, but all seemed to come back to the # of seven and it was usually related to the seven sacraments. However, the Italian Catholics said you could do 3 fishes and it symbolized the Holy Trinity, or as many as 13 fishes which symbolized the 12 apostles plus Jesus. Who knows. For all we know, seven probably seemed like a good number in the middle that they compromised on.
Now since Roman Catholics observe Christmas Eve in the waiting for the birth of Baby Jesus, it is believed that they do not eat meat on Christmas Eve, just as they observe Good Friday, etc.
So I think the more important question is why fish and not pasta? That I don’t know. But I do know that we’ve always had some sort of pasta for the kids growing up (because not all kids eat fish) and the seven fishes always included: clams, shrimp, baccalao, smelts, sardines, crab, and whatever else my grandmother could get her hands on.
Now, for Hannukah, I’ve read that when the Jews defeated the Syrians in 165 B.C. to reclaim the Holy Land (the victory Hanukkah celebrates), they had only a tiny amount of oil to relight the eternal flame in the Temple of Jerusalem. Yet the oil burned for eight days. Today, cooking with oil at Hanukkah recalls that miracle. And although Hannukah has passed this year, I do have two in-laws of the Jewish faith for whom I’ll be making good use of cooking with oil.
So for Christmas Eve dinner this year I decided to go with 3 and the Holy Trinity. You see, we Italians always make sure it fits our menu 🙂
- Spaghetti and Clams (#1 fish)
- Shrimp cocktail (#2 fish)
- Crab cakes (#3 fish)
- Lasagna (cheese)
What are some of your holiday traditions? The Italians can’t be the only crazy ones. Tell me.