Why Eat Fish On Christmas Eve?
Origins and tradition – The Feast of the Seven Fishes is part of the Italian-American Christmas Eve celebration, although it is not known as such in Italy and is not a “feast” in the sense of a “holiday,” but rather a lavish supper. Christmas Eve is a day of vigil or fasting, and the abundance of seafood symbolizes the tradition of abstaining from meat until the Christmas Day feast.
- Currently, the lunch comprises of seven distinct seafood dishes.
- The custom is known as The Vigil in Southern Italy, where it originated ( La Vigilia ).
- This event recalls the wait, the Vigilia di Natale, for the birth of Jesus at midnight.
- The long-standing custom of consuming seafood on Christmas Night derives from the Roman Catholic custom of refraining from eating meat on the eve of a feast.
On these days, when no meat or animal fat may be consumed, observant Catholics would instead consume fish (typically fried in oil). It is unknown when or where the phrase “Feast of the Seven Fishes” first became famous. The phrase was first mentioned in 1983 in The Philadelphia Inquirer.
There are seven or more typical fish included in the supper. As a permanent notion or term, “seven fishes” is unknown in Italy. Even in some Italian-American households, the amount of fish meals is not tallied. A popular dish is baccalà (salted cod fish). The tradition of celebrating with a basic fish like baccalà recalls the traditions of historically impoverished Southern Italian regions, as well as seasonal considerations.
Over the years, fried smelts, calamari, and other forms of seafood have been included to the Christmas Eve meal. The number seven might be derived from the seven sacraments of the Catholic Church, the seven hills of Rome, or another source. There is no consensus on its definition.
Why do Christians not consume meat on Christmas Eve?
Advent, especially Christmas Eve, and Lent have traditionally been days of fasting for Catholics. Red meat was restricted; only white meat, fish, and vegetarian foods were permitted.
On Christmas Eve in Italy, only fish, please! – Having a Christmas Eve in Italy? Expect plenty of these men! La Vigilia, the traditional Christmas Eve supper, is traditionally vegetarian. Only fish and veggies are served. This is consistent with the majority of meals offered on the eve of a religious holiday in Italy: You are expected to have a giorno di magro in order to cleanse your body in preparation for the holiday.
Whether the actual fish meals provided qualify as “lean” is, of course, another matter! One delicacy you may encounter on Christmas Eve in Italy is shellfish. Capitone (eel) is a traditional Christmas Eve meal, although its popularity is declining. These days, baccalà, octopus, and shellfish are the most prevalent types of fish.
Pezzetti, which are fried cubes of ricotta or bits of artichokes, zucchini, or broccoli, are a popular dish in Rome; in Naples, a sautéed mixture of broccoli and shellfish is served as an appetizer. Then, naturally, are the pasta meals. These also differ.
- In northern Italy, particularly in Lombardy and Piedmont, lasagna is topped with anchovies, parmesan, and spices.
- It is vermicelli with clams or mussels in Naples.
- If you think we’re talking about a 3-course dinner here, by the way, think again.
- Don’t worry, there’s a religious explanation for all of this gluttony! Seven dishes might be given for the seven sacraments, nine for the Trinity (squared), twelve for the apostles, thirteen for the disciples with Jesus, and twenty-one (whew!) for the Trinity multiplied by the seven sacraments.
“Starvation day,” indeed!
What do Germans eat on the eve of Christmas?
Even though I’m married to a German and have made Germany my permanent home, it’s doubtful I’ll ever be treated to a typical, home-cooked German Christmas lunch unless I prepare it myself (edit: which I already have!). Before we had children, my husband and I would spend Christmas Eve in Mainz with his family, and then travel to London the next day for a classic English turkey dinner with mine.
Despite the fact that Germany now celebrates complete alternative Christmases, I will not be able to sample a typical German Christmas feast. My father-in-law and mother-in-law find duck and goose to be too fatty, and my mother-in-law finds turkey to be too dry, so every year, my husband and his sisters take turns cooking something completely different, such as goulash or roasted venison, and the traditional German culinary customs are evident elsewhere (see: an endless supply of Lebkuchen ).
As the evenings become darker and colder and the aroma of Glühwein fills the air, I can’t help but wonder what other Germans will prepare for Christmas. (Scroll to the bottom for a brief list of the books I peruse for inspiration.) My English Christmas turkey coated in bacon in London It has always appeared to me that the Germans truly celebrate Christmas on Christmas Eve (24 December), when – at least at my in-laws’ – the Christmas tree is ceremonially erected and festooned with ribbons, wooden decorations, and proper burning candles (don’t get me started).
At my husband’s family’s home, Christmas gifts are presented after the tree has been decorated, in the warm glow of candles and a roaring log fire, with trays of Advent cookies and a tall glass of wine in hand. Since good Catholic Germans were traditionally required to attend Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve, and many still do today, the traditional Christmas Eve dinner consisted of a small, meatless meal with fish as the main item.
Carp, salmon, or hake frequently take center stage at the dinner table, accompanied by fried potatoes or Kartoffelpuffer (potato fritters) and sauerkraut, even in households where church attendance is not a must. Nonetheless, meat has made its way back onto the table in many families, maybe as beef pieces to dip in a cheese fondue or – more frequently – as sausages served with potato salad.
- A German potato salad for the holiday season The advantage of a light(ish) Christmas Eve dinner, in addition to allowing you to stay awake throughout Mass, is that you can consume more food the following day.
- In terms of the typical Christmas Day meal in Germany, there is a tremendous amount of food to consume.
To begin, there is the relatively simple breakfast and/or lunch, the composition of which varies by location. In all of Germany, you’ll find cold meats and cheeses on the breakfast table, but there are several regional variants, such as the celebratory breads that may accompany them, and in the north, you’ll almost surely be served fish.
- At my in-laws’ home in Rheinland-Pfalz, breakfast is a late and protracted event consisting of hard-boiled eggs, bread rolls, cold cuts and cheese pieces with cornichons and an assortment of jams and chutneys.
- A dish of spiced biscuits and Lebkuchen with a gooey center will be available throughout the day, along with a slice of Stollen for afternoon tea.
A prepared duck for roasting Despite the abundance of appetizing treats on Christmas Day in Germany, you should spare some room for supper. At the heart of a traditional German Christmas dinner is typically a roasted goose, turkey, or duck, served with lovely plump bread dumplings – the classic round ones, or one enormous festive loaf-shaped one known as a Serviettenknodel (pictured above, sliced), as well as braised red cabbage or stewed kale.
Most likely, a Riesling or a Gewürztraminer will pair well with all of this really rich meal. Ginger & Bread has given a great recipe for Serviettenknodel on her blog (especially for us!) if you’re considering making a typical German Christmas supper. In addition, a delicious roast goose recipe may be found on her website.
Ginger has incorporated considerations for individuals who require a gluten-free Christmas feast in her recipe for vegetarian dumplings. On Ginger’s website, you will discover a recipe for braised red cabbage to accompany your goose and dumplings, in addition to a number of extremely Christmassy German sweet goodies.
If you have room for dessert, a traditional German Christmas dessert could include cinnamon, apple, or orange. However, there is no one traditional German Christmas dessert (which may come as a relief after a long day of feasting). I believe I would carefully rise from the table, recline in front of a roaring fire, and enjoy a few of tangerines.
I might even take a tiny herbaceous German digestif, but after spending several winters in Germany, I can only urge you to proceed with utmost caution! If you’re looking for additional ideas for German food to prepare during Advent and Christmas, you’ll find lots in my favorite German cookbooks — all of which would make wonderful Christmas presents!