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La Cena Della Vigilia – I Sette Pesci (The Seven Fish)

Luca DiFranco - December 2, 2016

The Christmas Eve dinner, known as “La Cena della Vigilia”, is a tradition that takes place in Italian-American households on, well, the eve of Christmas! It is a tradition that consists of two huge parts of Italian-American culture: family and food! Let me tell you a bit more about it. 

To begin, the “cena” is one that, for this occasion, is fish based. The reason being has to do with the Catholic influence in the country of Italy. However, this does not necessarily mean that because you are Italian you celebrate this tradition, or that you do so as my family does. To explain, some regions of Italy, such as the northern regions particularly, do not take part in this tradition as part of their holiday celebration. My family, being from the southernmost island of Sicily, did always take part (also because we are a Catholic family who celebrates Christmas). It would always be a great experience to have a gathering of family ranging anywhere from 20-60 people. Typically, we would gather at my Godmother’s house and she would assist my Godfather in cooking the seven fish for the evening (I do want to add that my family’s tradition was always to cook seven fish while some families, depending on where they were from, would cook 9, 11, or 13 fish.) The seven fish would consist of the following: Tilapia, codfish, clams, mussels, shrimp, calamari (squid), and octopus and each would be prepared in various ways (sometimes even together such as in the form of a seafood medley!). Each of these fish would represent one of the seven Holy Sacraments. 

While this list of seven swimmers may consist of some unfamiliar names, I can assure you that they are all delicious and that because of this tradition, a large portion of an extended family was able to come together year in and year out. I cannot express in words how much more delicious this made the fish and the holiday more enjoyable! And now, as we head into our winter break from college or university, I leave you all, having given you this little splurge of a faith based tradition, hoping that some of you were able to relate to me and others able to learn from me. 

Buon Appetito e Buon Natale!