How to Host a Feast of the Seven Fishes Dinner
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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What Is the Feast of Seven Fishes?
In Italian-American households, the Feast of the Seven Fishes (also known as Festa dei Sette Pesci or La Vigilia) is celebrated on December 24. This Christmas Eve celebration kicks off the holiday festivities with a huge dinner consisting of seven courses of fish and seafood.
Where Did the Feast of the Seven Fishes Originate?
This tradition stems from the Roman Catholic practice of abstaining from meat the day before religious holidays (now skipping meat is mostly reserved for Fridays in Lent). In those earlier days, Italians embraced refraining from meat and celebrated Christmas Eve by pulling out all the stops and incorporating fish into a large meal.
Over time, this over-the-top meal turned into a custom that many Italian-American families look forward to each December. Staffer Nicole Fornabaio’s family is one of them. Here, she offers her tips on how you can celebrate at home with your loved ones.
If this celebration is new to your family or friends, make it o-fish-al with invitations. Whether you prefer digital or print invites, these notes can give guests a bit of background on the celebration. Save a little postage and slip an invitation in along with your holiday cards.
Create an Ambience
Since it’s Christmas Eve, you’ll want to have Christmas music playing in the background. However, you can give a fun nod to the holiday by filling a playlist full of carols sung by Italian-American artists like Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Louis Prima.
“My uncle brings wine each year, lining the table with a variety of reds and whites,” Nicole says. Incorporate popular Italian varieties and feature at least one bubbly option for the holiday. And if you need more stemware to accommodate all your guests, check out our Test Kitchen’s favorite wine glasses.
Drink Menu Ideas:
The Appetizer Course
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!
Appetizer Course Menu Ideas
The Salad Course
A cool, fresh salad is the perfect way to break up a multi-course meal. Keep it light and simple so that this course can allow guests to cleanse their palates.
Salad Course Menu Ideas
The Pasta Course
The feast continues with flavorful seafood pasta. Word to the wise: steer clear of pasta drenched in heavy cream sauces, as there is still a lot of food to come! “Fresh pasta is key,” says Nicole, whose family gets theirs from Borgatti’s in the Bronx (yes, they ship!). Her family’s traditional pasta sauce includes several types of seafood—mussels, clams and calamari. “Mom even makes a hot and spicy version of the sauce for those who can stand it,” she adds.
Pasta Course Menu Ideas
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. If your local fishmonger has eel, bake it for an authentic celebration. Any seafood goes, says Nicole: “From fillet of sole to baked scallops to shrimp scampi—even king crab legs.”
Main Course Menu Ideas
The Side Course
While this meal is all about the fish and seafood, don’t forget to accent those dishes with a few tasty sides. A side of potatoes makes a great hearty extra. You can lighten things up with vegetable sides like spinach or leeks.
Side Course Menu Ideas
The Dessert Course
If you have room after this incredible meal, enjoy a slice of a decadent Italian dessert. It wouldn’t be Christmas Eve without a display of homemade Christmas cookies, Nicole says. And don’t forget the struffoli. “My family gets together on the weekend before Christmas to crank out 12 batches, working as a production line from rolling and cutting dough, to frying and coating in honey. Delicious!”
Dessert Course Menu Ideas
Don’t Forget to Thank Your Guests
As the evening comes to a close, consider a special send-off gift for your guests, like 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!