Enter the seven fishes: the tradition that brings seven different variations of seafood to the Christmas Eve dinner table.
In a new Fox Nation special, Italian-American dinner guests discuss the importance of celebrating their heritage with a tradition laced with family, faith, and good food.
In the special, Italian American Museum education consultant Marie Palladino explained that the seven fishes tradition has a biblical origin story, pulling from the number seven being repeated more than 700 times in the bible. For Italians, using the number seven in this way honors faith and the birth of Jesus Christ.
“It’s a very holy, sacred number and Italians are very superstitious in our practice of religion in Catholicism, and so we applied this number to this feast,” she said.
The seven fishes feast can include an endless array of prepared fish from seafood salad, to frutte del mare, and even to fried eel – which Palladino pointed out early Christians believed would ward off evil. But the meal is not enjoyed as indulgently in Italy as it is by Italian-Americans, as Italians tend to eat smaller portion sizes.
Steel Wheel Tavern executive chef Bryan Tortorella recalled watching his mother cook at a young age and being completely in awe of her stamina in the kitchen as she’d prepare the Christmas Eve feast and others.
“From the cut the garlic, to the make of the pasta, it was just an all-day process,” he said. “It was just family and camaraderie.”
Roberto’s restaurant owner and chef Roberto Paciullo, who was born in Italy and migrated to America at 17 years old, explained that Christmas Eve was always a time to invite in others who don’t follow the same traditions.
“What we do – it’s not to impress people,” he said. “It’s the love that we have for food.”
Comedian and fellow Italian-American Joe Piscopo shared with Fox News Digital how his indulgence of the seven fishes is all about faith and family.
“[Family] is very important,” he said. “It’s the core of the Italian-American community.”
When it comes to gathering around his own Christmas Eve table, Piscopo revealed that nothing compares to his mother’s “perfectly” seared scallops and other seafood favorites like clams, mussels and octopus with tentacles still intact.
The comedian jested that he’s the “bread guy,” responsible for bringing a loaf of bread to the celebration since there’s no competing with his mother’s cooking.
“When you’re at my mom’s, you’re not going to top anything,” he said.
Piscopo expressed that this season he feels the Christmas spirit “more than ever” as the coronavirus pandemic loosens its grip and families reunite – families who, like his, should be proud of their ancestry.
“The last couple of years, the Italian-American community has come together more than I’ve ever seen,” he said. “My message is to take pride in what your ethnicity is because ethnicity is the foundation of America… We should remember the legacy of our foremothers and forefathers because that makes the country stronger.”
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