The Feast of the Seven Fishes – the Christmas tradition you should try

Family traditions are malleable, spreading through the generations like gossip, and, especially when it comes to the tasty ones, there’s often no need to question them.

So it’s easy to lose track of where they come from and why.

While writing and researching this article, I learned new things about a festive tradition my family has taken part in every Christmas Eve for longer than I’ve been alive – ever since my mom’s Italian American stepdad married my grandma back in the 70s.

One of the culinary highlights of my whole year, the Feast of the Seven Fishes is a uniquely Italian American custom of eating (you guessed it) at least seven different kinds of seafood the night before Christmas – although some households don’t count the dishes.

It’s thought to have originated thanks to immigrants from southern Italy in the 1800s, with the coast back home making seafood a major part of celebrations.

While it’s not clear exactly how the number seven came into it, abstaining from meat on a holy day is a common thing in Catholic homes, so it’s not hard to connect the dots and see why eating a bunch of fish on Christmas Eve became popular.

Common dishes include eel – while not a staple with my family, don’t be surprised if you hear an Italian American say that you can’t have Christmas without it – and baccalà, a type of salt-cured cod.

In our household, as my grandma says, it’s ‘practically an all-day affair’, with appetisers of shrimp, stuffed clams, smoked salmon on crackers and fried calamari before a main meal consisting of lobster tails, scallops, and mussels and clams on top of a bed of pasta with marinara sauce. Finally, we have a dessert of cookies and cannolis.

Due to the sheer volume of food, breakfast on Christmas Day is a very light affair – we pretty much lightly snack our way through until dinner.

If this has got you battling a seafood craving, or you want to try your own Fishes Feast on Christmas Eve, here are a few family favourite recipes you can try your hand at.

Scallops with Parma ham

My partner, a far, far better cook than me, took over the Seven Fishes Feast last year, and this was one of his stand-out dishes. Simple, but very effective.


  • 50g butter
  • 4-8 fresh scallops, out of their shells
  • 4-8 slices of Parma ham
  • 2 tbsp sherry vinegar


Stuffed clams

This is my 100-year-old great-grandma’s recipe, so you’re pretty much morally obligated to like it.


  • 3 6.5oz cans of minced clams – save the juice
  • 6 slices of stale bread – 2 per can
  • 1/4 cup of grated cheese
  • 1 egg
  • Large clamshells – to serve. If you can’t get your hands on clamshells, you can spoon the mixture into portobello mushrooms instead
  • Approx 1 tbsp of olive oil
  • Seasoning to taste


Lobster tails

Decadent, buttery and universally looked forward to, the lobster tails are classed as an emotional, spiritual, physical and mental need for me at Christmas.


  • 1 lobster tail per person
  • Garlic to taste
  • Butter to taste
  • Seasoning to taste
  • Lemon wedges for squeezing on top


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