Christmas Eve La Vigilia
La Vigilia or the Italian-American version of the Feast of the Seven Fishes, is a southern Italian custom that spread throughout Italy.
La Vigilia, the Vigil, is celebrated on Christmas Eve. It symbolizes waiting for the birth of Jesus. At the time the custom arose out of the Catholic tradition of abstinence from meat during certain holiday times. Fish was the substitute protein.
On Christmas Eve, Italians would prepare a fish dinner. It could be one fish or a multi-course extravaganza depending on poverty, wealth, or the availability of fish in certain areas.
It is claimed that either Italian-American fish merchants or restaurants coined the term “Feast of the Seven Fishes”.
When I was young, it was a real feast. Clams, oysters, mussels, squid, octopus, baccala, snails, mackerel, whole large anchovies, and various side dishes and salads. My parents and relatives, though not wealthy, spared no expense for this one night.
There are not many family members or friends around anymore to celebrate with vast quantities of food. Last year,
I went the small plate route. Seven fish served as appetizers, salad, and small main courses. Below is a gallery of La Vigilia small plate style.