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How to Host a Feast of the Seven Fishes

Whether you're Italian through and through or simply love seafood (and holidays), use these ideas to host an unforgettable Feast of the Seven Fishes on Christmas Eve.

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Holiday Italian Feast of 7 Fishes with Snapper Octopus and PastaBrent Hofacker/Shutterstock

This Christmas Eve, invite friends and family to celebrate one of the most iconic Italian-American traditions around. The Feast of the Seven Fishes—also known as Festa dei Sette Pesci or La Vigilia—is a huge dinner that features seven courses of fish and seafood dishes, plus a classic Italian dessert. Add some festive decor and good music and you’ll have an unforgettable evening!

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Send Invites

Make it o-“fish”-al by sending unique invitations (like these) to your guests. A seaside theme will do the trick. Many designers have digital downloads available that you can quickly print yourself. Or get creative and design your own: Draw fish or use a fish stamp to decorate the outside of blank cards, then add the information inside.

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The Decor

Set the mood with some deep-sea decorations. Hang colorful fish garlands, use fish wrapping paper as a table runner, or layer green, white and red tablecloths to mimic the Italian flag. Use a fish stamp to decorate plain party napkins, and scatter seashells down the center of the table. Create a photo booth space with props where your guests can take some sea-themed selfies.

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The Music

No party is complete without a soundtrack—and that includes the Feast of the Seven Fishes. Break up favorite holiday classics with ocean-themed tunes (think “Under The Sea” from The Little Mermaid, “Octopus’s Garden” by Ringo Starr and Bobby Darin’s “Beyond the Sea”). You could even stick to an Italian-American theme and put on holiday standards by Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra, Lou Monte and more.

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The Appetizers

As guests arrive and have their first drinks, open the feast with a couple of apps. These should be small bites to whet their appetites for the courses to come—remember, this is the first of seven fish courses! Try a classic shrimp cocktail, Hot Crab Dip served with crackers or Party Shrimp with cute little appetizer picks.

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The Pasta Course

The feast continues with a bright, flavorful seafood pasta. Some sure-to-please choices are Shrimp Scampi flavored with lemon and herbs, and Scallops with Linguine (you’ll need to multiply the recipe). Word to the wise: Steer clear of pasta drenched in heavy cream sauces, as there is still a lot of food to come!

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The Soup

Get out the ladle—it’s time to dish up some soup, stew or chowder. This Salmon Dill Soup is a delicious choice, as is Grandma’s Seafood Chowder. No need to fill the bowls to brimming—that way nobody will feel stuffed after this course. So many to go!

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The Salad

Yes! Leaves! Such a welcome way to pace yourselves on this enchanted evening. Salads to consider: Salmon & Feta Wilted Spinach Salad, Cioppino-Mixed Green Salad or even a classic Caesar (there are anchovies in the dressing).

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The Main Courses

Yep, we said “courses.” Three stunning main courses of fish or seafood will be the pinnacle of this feast. Go for rich, indulgent dishes that are true showstoppers. Think grilled or roasted salmon, grilled lobster tails and a hearty slice of White Seafood Lasagna. If your local fishmonger has eel, bake it for an authentic celebration.

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The Dessert

Round out this incredible night of feasting with a sweet Italian dessert. Serve classic cannoli (we have three ways to make it here), use pizzelle cookies for an elegant twist with Chocolate Cannoli or hand out Cannoli Martinis made with a touch of red wine. Other dessert possibilities include rich tiramisu, creamy panna cotta or a refreshing dish of gelato.

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The Takeaway

As the evening comes to a close, consider a special send-off gift for your guests like a fish Christmas ornament or a bottle of homemade limoncello to remind friends and family of this special night. And as they leave, don’t forget to bid everyone un buon Natale!

Nancy Mock
Discovering restaurants, tasting bakery treats, finding inspiration in new flavors and regional specialties—no wonder Nancy loves being a food and travel writer. She and her family live in Vermont and enjoy all things food, as well as the beautiful outdoors, game nights, Avengers movies and plenty of maple syrup. Find Nancy’s writing and recipes at her website: Hungry Enough To Eat Six.

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