The Feast of the Seven Fishes

Feast of the Seven Fishes


Father Anthony W. Ditto, parochial vicar of Mother of Sorrows Parish, Murrysville, remembers the stories of his family’s arrival in America from Southern Italy at the turn of the century. With them came a Christmas tradition that he remembers fondly: Vigilia di Natale, or the Vigil of Christmas. That meant fasting all day on Christmas Eve, then celebrating with the Feast of the Seven Fishes at night.

Father Anthony W. Ditto

Here’s a quick reference guide, in Father Ditto’s words, just in case your grandparents are not from “Eataly.”

What are the origins of the Feast of the Seven Fishes?

Historically, fish was on the menu in Southern Italy because it was plentiful and cheap. The tradition of eating fish on the vigil came from a time in the Roman Catholic tradition when you abstained from eating meat on a feast day. So, Christmas being a feast day, on the vigil they ate fish.

What is the significance of Seven?

My grandfather always said that the seven fish represented the seven sacraments, but the meal for religious purposes is always centered toward Christ.

Do I have to make seven fishes to uphold the tradition?

Absolutely not. Make it your own. Make what you know how to make. Most importantly, make what you like.

Now’s a great time to renew the tradition of gathering as a family.  The food is secondary. It’s gathering as a family, and always pointing toward why we are gathering as a family— that we’re celebrating a feast, the feast of Christ being born.

That was always why we celebrated la Vigilia.

Buon Natale!

Father Ditto’s Traditional Favorites:

  • Pasta aglia e olio eith anchovies
  • Baccala or salted cod
  • Sardines
  • Smelt two ways: baked in olive oil, garlic and oregano, or battered and fried
  • Calamari two ways: fried (restaurant style) or sautéed in a spicy Arrabbiata sauce

Father Ditto’s new Favorites:

  • Steamed crab legs
  • Seared tuna
  • Branzino roasted whole with lemon
  • Clams in butter and garlic


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