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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.

Every editorial product is independently selected, though we may be compensated or receive an affiliate commission if you buy something through our links. Ratings and prices are accurate and items are in stock as of time of publication.

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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.

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. Learn how you can celebrate at home with your loved ones.

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Send Invites

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.

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The Decor

Because the Feast of the Seven Fishes is traditionally held on Christmas Eve, all you need is your go-to Christmas decor and holiday table decorations. That’s more than festive enough for this party!

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The Music

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, Louis Prima and more.

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The Drinks

For a special occasion, a decanter of wine or two is always welcome at the table. Try to incorporate Italian varieties like Prosecco (for bubbly lovers), Sangiovese, Pinot Grigio or Chianti. And if you need more stemware to accommodate all your guests, check out our Test Kitchen’s favorite wine glasses.

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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 classic Shrimp Cocktail, scoop up Crab Meat Au Gratin with veggies or put Party Shrimp on cute little appetizer picks.

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The Soup

Get out the ladle—it’s time to dish up homemade soup. Cioppino is an Italian-American classic. 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

A cool, fresh salad is the perfect way to break up a multi-course meal. Calamari Salad is a very traditional dish for this celebration. For a green option, try this salad with seasoned shrimp.

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The Pasta Course

The feast continues with flavorful seafood pasta. Some sure-to-please choices are scallops with angel hair or shrimp with pomodoro sauce. 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 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 lobster tails or roast cod and asparagus. If your local fishmonger has eel, bake it for an authentic celebration.

Our top pick is this Maple Bourbon Salmon. The seafood theme is Italian but the maple and bourbon are strictly American. Combined, these ingredients show off what makes this Italian-American celebration special.

Also make sure to check out these 80 Italian Christmas Dinner Foods.

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Sides

While this meal is all about the fish and seafood, don’t forget to accent those dishes with a few tasty sides. These Parmesan potato wedges are a great hearty extra. You can lighten things up with this white bean and spinach dish or Sicilian leeks.

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The Dessert

If you have room after this incredible meal, enjoy a slice of a decadent Italian dessert. This Amaretto Ricotta Cheesecake is topped with sugared cranberries and is perfect for the holidays. If you want something lighter after all those courses, try a homemade sorbet.

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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 sea-themed 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.
Lisa Kaminski
Lisa is an editor at Taste of Home where she gets to embrace her passion for baking. She pours this love of all things sweet (and sometimes savory) into Bakeable, Taste of Home's baking club. Lisa is also dedicated to finding and testing the best ingredients, kitchen gear and home products. At home, you'll find her working on embroidery and other crafts.

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