You Wish You Were Italian on Christmas Eve

One thing to know about me is my love of food. After all, that’s the main reason why Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. But every year around Christmastime, an excitement starts brewing in me that is not necessarily because of Santa, Christmas cookies, lights, and overall holiday cheer. It’s the buildup to my family’s Feast of the Seven Fishes on Christmas Eve that enlivens me. 

What is this Feast of the Seven Fishes you ask? It’s an Italian-American tradition that takes place on Christmas Eve each year. It is a celebration complete with, you guessed it, an abundance of fish and other seafood dishes. Christmas Eve is considered to be a day of fasting from meat (until the feast of Christmas day itself) to commemorate the midnight birth of baby Jesus. The tradition began in Southern Italy where the day was known as The Vigil (La Vigilia), and this tradition was brought over to the U.S. in the 1800s in what is now known as Little Italy in New York. 

Each year leading up to Christmas Eve, my family and I begin our preparations for our feast. First, we of course have to write down the seafood dishes that we are going to include, and from there it takes a couple of days to start slowly gathering our ingredients. From scoping out the freshest of seafood to trekking to specialty Italian grocery stores, if there’s one thing that makes Italian food so delicious, it’s that we always use the best quality ingredients. 

Our Christmas Eve feast is something I look forward to each year. Cooking with my family is one of my favorite ways to spend time with them — making fresh pasta with my dad, peeling shrimp and catching up with my sister, laughing with my mom as we drink wine and cook the crab cakes, and teaching my younger brother how to cook. These are the moments I feel closest to my family and my heritage. It’s a time of celebration and peace, and after the year that was 2020 I think we could all use a little bit of that. 

Below I’ve included a list of some of the dishes my family cooks, as well as other popular ones, so that maybe you too can indulge in a little bit of Italian fanfare:

Bonina Family Dishes:

  • Lobster Bisque
  • Clams Oreganata
  • Shrimp Cocktail
  • Calamari (Fried and Steamed)
  • Mussels
  • Crab Cakes
  • Linguine ai Frutti di Mare
  • Oysters Rockefeller/Casino

Other Italian dishes:

  • Baccalà (salt cod) with pasta, as a salad or fried
  • Fried Smelts
  • Deep-Fried Scallops
  • Coryphaena (dolphinfish)
  • Octopus Salad
  • Whiting
  • Marinated Anchovies
  • Shrimp Pasta
  • Bagna Cauda
  • Fish Tartare

Photo by krakenimages on Unsplash