My Picture of Christmas: Feast of Seven Fishes


When my Jewish dad married into my mom’s crazy Italian family, I think he was hoping for something similar to “The Sopranos” (his favorite TV show). To his disappointment, my mom’s rambunctious family of seven didn’t quite resemble Tony, Carmela and company. I guess there was some redemption, though, when he learned my mom’s family and “The Sopranos” shared a tradition: the Feast of Seven Fishes.

Every Christmas Eve, my loud, boisterous maternal family gathers in my grandmother’s kitchen. There is the noise of pots banging, oven timers dinging, some screaming, and a lot of seafood cooking. When I was little, I thought the elaborate seafood feast was a silly thing my family did. I also thought seafood was repulsive, so the whole tradition was simply annoying, time consuming and unpleasant smelling.

Now that I’ve gotten a little older and have become a fan of seafood, I really appreciate this tradition, and quite honestly, it makes for a good story.

When I was asking my mom about this tradition, she didn’t really know how it began. She told me this was how it was when she was growing up, and it hasn’t changed much for us grandkids. In my family’s typical fashion, though, we’ve taken a family tradition shared by Italian families around the world and turned it into a competition.

When I was about 7 or 8, I distinctly remember my aunt and my uncle turning the making of calamari into a competition. The criteria used for the judging of each family member’s creation included whose was crisper, lighter and more attractively presented.

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    After the competition was over, it became a debate of whether calamari should be eaten plain, with lemon or with my grandmother’s homemade marinara. Obviously, opinions differed; the usual result was calamari being enjoyed all three ways.

    Some families truly go above and beyond in this commonly practiced Italian tradition. While my family would use seven types of fish — shrimp, mussels, salmon, cod, clams, tilapia and a wildcard (my grandmother’s choice that would change on a yearly basis) — my mom’s childhood neighbors, the DeTucci’s, would sometimes have upward of 10 types of seafood at their dinners.

    My family would usually stick to the traditional seven and would sometimes fluctuate depending on what looked fresh or what my grandmother considered to be of the best quality. I was also told that the DeTucci’s originated from a part of Italy closer to the coast; therefore, it was a regional tradition to have a greater variety of fish.

    Although this tradition strikes many as different and odd, this has been the picture of my family Christmases for as long as I can remember. It would honestly seem odd to me not to have a tremendous amount of seafood accompanied by pasta in my grandmother’s kitchen. When I think of Christmas, this is the image that comes to mind. I would be lying if I told you my family and I surround a Norman Rockwell-esque table with a roasted turkey at the center during the holidays. Although this tradition might not make sense to some people, myself included at times, it’s my picture of the holidays.

    Samantha is a freshman in Business. She can be reached at [email protected].