This Christmas Eve, enjoy the “Feast of the Seven Fishes”

Today, on Christmas Eve, I imagine you’re busy preparing a special holiday meal—perhaps using some time-tested family recipes. 

In our family, we like to enjoy some fresh, local seafood on Christmas Eve. Of course, this delectable tradition originally derives from the long-standing practice among Roman Catholics to abstain from eating meat before holy days.  

Then, in America, in the early 20th-century, the traditional seafood meal on Christmas Eve expanded and flourished…and became known as the “Festa dei Sette Pesci” or “Feast of the Seven Fishes.” It served as a way for Italian-American immigrant families—like my grandfather’s—to rekindle their Christmas Eve traditions from the old country. 

In fact, many of the Italian-American immigrants who settled in port cities—like Boston and my old region of Cape Ann and Gloucester, MA—were fishermen. So, by preparing a seven-course meal celebrating the bounty of the sea, it made them feel closer to home. 

Of course, if you’ve never participated in this tradition, you may wonder about the significance of preparing seven different types of fish.  

Well, the number seven is deeply rooted in religious symbolism dating back thousands of years. In fact, the number seven appears more than 700 times in the Bible. And there are seven sacraments, seven days of the Creation, and, of course, seven deadly sins (according to Dante Alighieri, at least). 

Now, let’s move on to talk about the feast itself… 

Preparing a fresh seafood feast with family 

In my house, we put out an antipasto plate of giardiniera (pickled vegetables) and cheeses to nibble on while preparing the main meal. While it might seem counterproductive to snack before a meal, it’s actually quite light and nutritious 

Plus, as I often report, full-fat cheese is a key part of the Mediterranean diet, which science considers to be the healthiest on the planet. (Although most so-called dietary experts ignore the role of cheese in this healthy, traditional diet. Probably because it doesn’t fit their anti-fat narrative!) 

Then, after enjoying the cheese and a glass or two of wine, we dive right into the main meal of seven fishes. Each family’s tradition varies slightly, but offerings often include: 

  • Baccalà (dried codfish, soaked for three days and reconstituted) 
  • Calamari (squid) 
  • Fried smelts 
  • Polpi (octopus) in tomato sauce 
  • Scungilli (conch) 
  • Shrimp 
  • Spaghetti alle vongole (spaghetti with clam sauce) 
  • Stuffed clams 

You can get fresh fish from the seafood section of your favorite grocer. But if you live near the coast, I suggest you try finding a fresh fish market. 

And if making seven different dishes sounds like too much work for you on Christmas Eve, consider throwing just a few of your favorite types of seafood into one big pot to make one of my favorite meals, a traditional New England seafood boil. 

As always, I suggest opting for fresh, wild-caught fish instead of farm-raised fish. And stay away from canned fish as much as possible. Here’s why… 

Heavy metals found hiding in cans 

The independent testing laboratory Consumer Labs recently analyzed omega-3 content and heavy metal contamination in 14 popular brands of canned tuna and salmon. And they found that the total amounts of the essential omega-3 fatty acidranged anywhere from 45 to 1,200 mg per serving. 

But 1,200 mg is the absolute minimum daily amount you need to support heart health. And most people need a lot more. So, you’re never going to get optimal doses of omega-3s that way!  

In fact, as I explained in the June 2018 issue of my Insiders’ Cures newsletter, most people also need to take a daily, high-quality fish oil supplement (“Why I’m upping my recommendations for this ‘controversial’ supplement”)Not yet a newsletter subscriber? Become one today with one simple click. 

The Consumer Labs study also found that 50 percent of canned fish products were contaminated with mercury and/or arsenic. The most commonly contaminated product was canned albacore tuna.  

In the end, whatever you decide to make today (and tomorrow), what matters most is getting to spend some time around the table with close family and friends. And if you have a special meal you enjoy preparing every Christmas Eve, I’d love to hear about it. In fact, I may just share some of your favorite recipes in an upcoming newsletter! So, go ahead and leave me a comment on Facebook or e-mail me at [email protected].  


“Warning: Some Canned Tuna Low on Omega-3, High in Mercury.” Newsmax, 9/26/2018 (