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Monday, December 24, 2012

Eleventh Day of Christmas -- Feast of Seven Fishes

The Feast of Seven Fishes is an Italian-American tradition.  Being of 100% Italian descent, I can boast of having had many of them. Some Italian families have eight to thirteen different fishes on this special Christmas Eve holiday and it is unclear when the tradition began. Eating seafood on Christmas Eve dates from the tradition of abstinence adopted by the Roman Catholic dictate, which requires the devoted to refrain from the consumption of meat on Fridays, and on the eve of specific holy days.

Dinner begins at three PM and you dare not be late!

Personally, I enjoy this dinner more than Christmas Day's fare.

This celebration commemorates the wait of the baby Jesus, the Vigilia Natale at midnight Christmas Eve.

The most famous dish Southern Italians are known for is baccalà (salted cod fish) phonetically spelled (b -ka-la). Our family is from Calabria and Sicily. I can't tell you when we last had baccalà. This year our family is getting together with close relatives and pooling our contributions including stuffed calamari or (ka la mare) which is the body of squid stuffed with a savory clam and clam infused spicy bread filling) and slowed cooked in gravy (our word for tomato sauce) served with spaghetti, of course. My parents adopted a lobster of sorts: large prawn roasted with a tangy butter sauce. There will be fresh shrimp, and fried shrimp (counting for two more fishes) now we have a total of five. Then perhaps there will be fried smelts, which are popped in your mouth and eaten, whole. If you can get them, broiled lobster tails are delicious served with hot melted butter. Don't forget the clams - steamed, baked or stuffed. And perhaps some scallops. You can always get more American phonetically pronounced (Med i can) and serve broiled tilapia or salmon. Now we have way more than seven. Oh, I forgot about the salad. Insalata dimara (seafood salad) my father-in-law who is Sicilian Napolidan (from the region of Naples) makes it with scungilli, conch, shrimp, calamari, celery, green olives, oil and lemon. You can always throw the anchovies (pronounced ah leech) on the antipasto. By now, surely, you've lost count, altogether, but you've got well more than seven fishes!

And why seven? According to research, seven is the most repeated number in the bible and appears over 700 times.
One popular theory is the number represents completion, as shown in Genesis 2:2: "By the seventh day God completed the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work." Theories about using seven fishes include: they represent the seven Sacraments of the Roman Catholic Church and seven is a number representing perfection; the traditional Biblical number for divinity is three, and for Earth is four, and the combination of these numbers, seven. Then God on Earth arrives via the Baby Jesus Christ. Folklore would claim it's because of the seven hills surrounding the city of Rome.

However you celebrate, enjoy your Christmas Eve. God Bless!

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