In Italy, the meal served on Christmas Eve is often called La Viglia (The Vigil). The meal may include many different varieties of fish, but no meat at all, stemming from the Roman Catholic tradition of abstinence or fasting. The Vigilia di Natale celebration commemorates the wait for the midnight birth of the baby Jesus.
Some families choose to have only a simple pasta dish followed by one fish course for “Esta dei Sette Pesci”. Others have multiple varieties of fish, with as many as seven or more fish dishes served during the meal. The “fast” is ended when Holy Communion is received at Midnight Mass.
The fish courses can include vast varieties of seafood. Calamari is a favorite as well as salted cod. Shrimp, lobster, eel, clams and mussels may make an appearance. Sardines and anchovies are used by cooks to help stretch the meal into seven separate fish dishes.
There are many different opinions regarding the symbolism behind the number, “7”. This number is the most repeated number in the Bible. Some say that it represents the seven days of creation. Others contend that it represents the seven sacraments of the Roman Catholic Church or even the Seven Hills of Rome.
Regardless of the symbolism, the feast is a time of fellowship with family. For Italians, Christmas spent with family is of upmost importance. The popular Italian saying "Natale con I tuoi; Pasqua conchi vuoi," which means "Christmas with your family; Easter with whomever you wish.” says it all.
We hope that your Christmas is merry and bright and filled with the magic of the season. Buon Natale!