7 Facts About the Feast of the Seven Fishes

iStock/GMVozd
iStock/GMVozd

For Italian-Americans, the Feast of the Seven Fishes—a nostalgia-fueled, hours-long dinner consisting of at least seven different types of seafood—is the defining Christmas Eve tradition. Firmly rooted in Italy’s Roman Catholic background, the Festa dei Sette Pesci is a delectable blend of the sacred and secular, the old world and the new.

1. It is not a Roman Catholic feast day.

The Feast of the Seven Fishes may go hand-in-hand with Roman Catholicism, but it’s not a religious “feast day.” There is no such thing as the “Feast of the Seven Fishes” in the Roman Catholic calendar. (In fact, in Roman Catholicism, a feast day has nothing to do with gorging yourself and everything to do with reflecting on and celebrating an important aspect of the faith, often the life of a saint.) The tradition’s name merely takes after the lay definition of feast: that is, there’s a lot of food on the table!

2. Traditionally, December 24 was a day to avoid food.

In the Catholic liturgical calendar, there are special days of abstinence (where followers are advised to avoid meat) and days of fasting (where followers are advised to reduce their food intake, usually to just one meal a day). Before reforms were made in the 1960s, December 24—what Roman Catholics call The Vigil of the Nativity of the Lord—was a day to fast and abstain, with worshippers generally allowed to break the fast in the evening. The Feast of the Seven Fishes, then, seems like an obvious solution to the circumstances: You have a big, hungry Catholic-Italian family that hasn’t touched food all day. None of them are allowed to eat meat. What else is there to do but prepare a giant evening meal of pasta and seafood?

3. The tradition began in Southern Italy, but not the name.

While the tradition of enjoying a large meatless Christmas Eve meal was (and remains) common across Italy—as well as many other Roman Catholic-dominated countries—the origins of the Feast of the Seven Fishes has its roots in southern Italy. The area, which is surrounded by bountiful coastline, has been known for its seafood for generations. It's also historically poorer than the rest of Italy, with locals preferring fish because of its relative affordability.

4. The Unification of Italy ultimately helped bring the feast to America.

In 1861, the regions of the Italian peninsula joined to form a single nation. The states of the south (what had formerly been the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies) would suffer for it. The new government began allocating most of its resources to nurturing the north, causing poverty and organized crime in the south—which were already problems—to worsen. The situation plunged southern Italy into such poverty that approximately 4 million people from the region moved to America between 1880 and 1924. It’s no surprise that those immigrants took their tradition of big, fishy Christmas Eve dinners with them, making it a popular Italian-American celebration today.

5. In Italy, they would have simply called the feast La Vigilia.

Those immigrants, however, probably didn’t call it the “Feast of the Seven Fishes.” More likely, they called it some variant of La Cena della vigilia, Il Cenone, La vigilia di Natale, or simply La Vigilia. The current name of the feast—and the practice of making exactly seven types of fish—comes from the new world. “Not many people observe these numbers in Italy,” cookbook author Amy Riolo told American Food Roots. “It’s much more popular in [America]. Americans love themes.”

"As an Italian, I must admit I hadn’t heard about [the Feast of Seven Fishes] … and most of my Italian friends haven’t either," Katia Amore wrote in Italy Magazine.

6. It’s unclear what the “seven fishes” signify.

Nobody knows where the “seven fishes” moniker came from. Many insist it’s a religious symbol. The number seven, after all, appears hundreds of times in the Bible and is significant in the Roman Catholic Church: It may represent the seven sacraments. Or the seven virtues. Or perhaps it commemorates the day Christians believe God rested. Others say the number is just a good marketing tool used by restaurants. (Indeed, the earliest newspaper article we found containing the phrase “Feast of the Seven Fishes” is a 1983 advertisement for a restaurant in Philadelphia.)

7. The variety is mouthwatering.

“Talk with 10 Italian-Americans about the special feast, and you could come up with 10 dinner menus, plus a varying selection of fish,” Gerald Etter wrote for The Philadelphia Inquirer. And that’s the beauty of the feast: There are no hard and fast rules. Some people include as many as 12 or 13 dishes, including mussels in spaghetti, fried calamari, anchovies, sardines, whiting with lemon, scungilli, lobster fra diavolo, capellini with tuna sauce, branzino, sole, and shrimp scampi. Many insist on eel. (“You can’t have Christmas Eve without eel,” John Tenaglia tells the Inquirer.) Another almost universal recommendation is baccalà—dried, salted cod. But the most important ingredient, of course, is friends and family.

The 10 Best Air Fryers on Amazon

Cosori/Amazon
Cosori/Amazon

When it comes to making food that’s delicious, quick, and easy, you can’t go wrong with an air fryer. They require only a fraction of the oil that traditional fryers do, so you get that same delicious, crispy texture of the fried foods you love while avoiding the extra calories and fat you don’t.

But with so many air fryers out there, it can be tough to choose the one that’ll work best for you. To make your life easier—and get you closer to that tasty piece of fried chicken—we’ve put together a list of some of Amazon’s top-rated air frying gadgets. Each of the products below has at least a 4.5-star rating and over 1200 user reviews, so you can stop dreaming about the perfect dinner and start eating it instead.

1. Ultrean Air Fryer; $76

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Around 84 percent of reviewers awarded the Ultrean Air Fryer five stars on Amazon, making it one of the most popular models on the site. This 4.2-quart oven doesn't just fry, either—it also grills, roasts, and bakes via its innovative rapid air technology heating system. It's available in four different colors (red, light blue, black, and white), making it the perfect accent piece for any kitchen.

Buy it: Amazon

2. Cosori Air Fryer; $120

Cosori/Amazon

This highly celebrated air fryer from Cosori will quickly become your favorite sous chef. With 11 one-touch presets for frying favorites, like bacon, veggies, and fries, you can take the guesswork out of cooking and let the Cosori do the work instead. One reviewer who “absolutely hates cooking” said, after using it, “I'm actually excited to cook for the first time ever.” You’ll feel the same way!

Buy it: Amazon

3. Innsky Air Fryer; $90

Innsky/Amazon

With its streamlined design and the ability to cook with little to no oil, the Innsky air fryer will make you feel like the picture of elegance as you chow down on a piece of fried shrimp. You can set a timer on the fryer so it starts cooking when you want it to, and it automatically shuts off when the cooking time is done (a great safety feature for chefs who get easily distracted).

Buy it: Amazon

4. Secura Air Fryer; $62

Secura/Amazon

This air fryer from Secura uses a combination of heating techniques—hot air and high-speed air circulation—for fast and easy food prep. And, as one reviewer remarked, with an extra-large 4.2-quart basket “[it’s] good for feeding a crowd, which makes it a great option for large families.” This fryer even comes with a toaster rack and skewers, making it a great addition to a neighborhood barbecue or family glamping trip.

Buy it: Amazon

5. Chefman Turbo Fry; $60

Chefman/Amazon

For those of you really looking to cut back, the Chefman Turbo Fry uses 98 percent less oil than traditional fryers, according to the manufacturer. And with its two-in-one tank basket that allows you to cook multiple items at the same time, you can finally stop using so many pots and pans when you’re making dinner.

Buy it: Amazon

6. Ninja Air Fryer; $100

Ninja/Amazon

The Ninja Air Fryer is a multipurpose gadget that allows you to do far more than crisp up your favorite foods. This air fryer’s one-touch control panel lets you air fry, roast, reheat, or even dehydrate meats, fruits, and veggies, whether your ingredients are fresh or frozen. And the simple interface means that you're only a couple buttons away from a homemade dinner.

Buy it: Amazon

7. Instant Pot Air Fryer + Electronic Pressure Cooker; $180

Instant Pot/Amazon

Enjoy all the perks of an Instant Pot—the ability to serve as a pressure cooker, slow cooker, yogurt maker, and more—with a lid that turns the whole thing into an air fryer as well. The multi-level fryer basket has a broiling tray to ensure even crisping throughout, and it’s big enough to cook a meal for up to eight. If you’re more into a traditional air fryer, check out Instant Pot’s new Instant Vortex Pro ($140) air fryer, which gives you the ability to bake, proof, toast, and more.

Buy it: Amazon

8. Omorc Habor Air Fryer; $100

Omorc Habor/Amazon

With a 5.8-quart capacity, this air fryer from Omorc Habor is larger than most, giving you the flexibility of cooking dinner for two or a spread for a party. To give you a clearer picture of the size, its square fryer basket, built to maximize cooking capacity, can handle a five-pound chicken (or all the fries you could possibly eat). Plus, with a non-stick coating and dishwasher-safe basket and frying pot, this handy appliance practically cleans itself.

Buy it: Amazon

9. Dash Deluxe Air Fryer; $100

Dash/Amazon

Dash’s air fryer might look retro, but its high-tech cooking ability is anything but. Its generously sized frying basket can fry up to two pounds of French fries or two dozen wings, and its cool touch handle makes it easy (and safe) to use. And if you're still stumped on what to actually cook once you get your Dash fryer, you'll get a free recipe guide in the box filled with tips and tricks to get the most out of your meal.

Buy it: Amazon

10. Bella Air Fryer; $52

Bella/Amazon

This petite air fryer from Bella may be on the smaller side, but it still packs a powerful punch. Its 2.6-quart frying basket makes it an ideal choice for couples or smaller families—all you have to do is set the temperature and timer, and throw your food inside. Once the meal is ready, its indicator light will ding to let you know that it’s time to eat.

Buy it: Amazon

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

35 Offbeat Holidays You Can Celebrate in August

Buckle up! National Roller Coaster Day is coming.
Buckle up! National Roller Coaster Day is coming.
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Many of August's quirky holidays revolve around celebrating loved ones and seasonal delights, so grab your family (Fido included) and a bag of marshmallow and let's party.

1. August 1: National Girlfriends Day

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Rest easy, boyfriends of the world, this holiday has nothing to do with you. National Girlfriends Day honors the lady friends who are there for their fellow lady friends.

2. August 1: Respect for Parents Day

We have a feeling an unappreciated parent came up with this holiday.

3. August 1: Rounds Resounding Day

This offbeat holiday honors the art of singing rounds, so find some pitch-perfect friends and warm up those vocal chords (via Zoom is fine).

4. August 1: National Mustard Day

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We'll use any excuse to eat a hot dog—or three.

5. August 2: National Psychic Day

But don't bother planning a surprise party for your resident clairvoyant.

6. August 2: National Sisters Day

Make sure to set aside the first Sunday in August as a day to celebrate the unique bond that you have with your sister(s).

7. August 4: Single Working Women's Day

In 2006, Barbara Payne established the Single Working Women’s Affiliate Network to recognize the achievements that single women have contributed to the world. Single Working Women's Day comes at the end of Single Working Women's Week, a time to celebrate the women "who do it all. Not only do they bring home the bacon, but they also shop for it, cook it, serve it and clean it up, then take out the garbage, walk the dog, and fix the sink (or call the repairman!)."

8. August 5: National Underwear Day

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Underwear emporium Freshpair founded National Underwear Day on August 5, 2003. Since then it has grown to include events around the country that encourage the 80 percent of people who have worn the same style of underwear their whole lives to branch out.

9. August 6: National Fresh Breath Day

If ever there were a day to stage an intervention with your halitosis-afflicted friends, today’s the day. Or, give yourself an extra brush and a bonus swirl of mouthwash and say ah. Probably a good idea to lay off the onions and garlic for the day, too.

10. August 7: International Beer Day

Back in 2007, a group of friends decided to internationally dedicate a day to "gather with friends and enjoy the deliciousness that is beer, celebrate the dedicated men and women who brew and serve our beer, and bring the world together under the united banner of beer." And to that we say, cheers! Or salud! Or prost! Or gan bei! Well, you get the idea.

11. August 7: National Lighthouse Day

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In 1989, on the 200th anniversary of having signed "An Act for the Establishment and Support of Lighthouse, Beacons, Buoys and Public Piers" into law, Congress decreed August 7 to be National Lighthouse Day.

12. August 8: National Dollar Day

On this day all the way back in 1786, the Continental Congress established a monetary system for the United States of America. Today, you can honor the birth of cold hard USD cash by carrying a few Georges, Andrews, and Abrahams in your wallet. If you decide to invite Benjamin, give us a call!

13. August 8: National Happiness Happens Day

Celebrated annually on the founding date of the Society of Happy People (formerly known as the Secret Society of Happy People—but why keep that a secret?), which you can join for free.

14. August 9: National Book Lovers Day

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For most book lovers, every day is a day to celebrate reading. But for the sake of celebration let’s open up the floor to all interpretations of what it means to be a “book lover.” Perhaps you just love the physical feel of a book, and have no interest in cracking one open. Or maybe, this day is meant to honor books in love with each other. Today is the day to exalt book lovers of all shapes, sizes, covers, and word counts.

15. August 9: Veep Day

Veep Day commemorates the date in 1974 when Gerald Ford became President without ever having been elected as either vice president or president. Ford had become vice president after Spiro Agnew resigned due to a kickback scandal. When Nixon later resigned amid the Watergate scandal, Ford found himself occupying the Oval Office. This was the first time the VP had become president under these terms.

16. August 10: National Lazy Day

National Lazy Day falls on a Monday this year. So be sure to plan ahead.

17. August 10: National S’mores Day

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The original s’mores recipe, published in Scout leader Loretta Scott Crew's 1927 Tramping and Trailing with the Girl Scouts, called these campfire treats Some Mores. Which is exactly what you'll be asking for.

18. August 11: National Presidential Joke Day

On this day in 1984, during a sound check for a radio broadcast, Ronald Reagan cracked the following joke:

“My fellow Americans, I am pleased to tell you today that I’ve signed legislation that will outlaw Russia forever. We begin bombing in five minutes.”

Who knew the Gipper had such a dark sense of humor? He certainly didn’t know the mic was already recording, and the tape leaked. Since this little gaffe, August 11th has lived on as Presidential Joke Day.

19. August 12: National Middle Child Day

Even though birth order doesn't really affect your personality, let's hear it for the middle children of the world.

20. August 12: Vinyl Record Day

First declared such in 2002, Vinyl Record Day is held on the anniversary of Thomas Edison's 1877 invention of the phonograph.

21. August 13: International Left Handers Day

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For those world citizens who have found themselves in a right-handed-scissors world, today the world honors your special gifts. The other 364, we righties are still secretly jealous. If you’re in the UK on the 13th, the Left-handers Club sponsors members-only areas called “Lefty Zones." Okay fine, we’re jealous all 365 days.

22. August 15: Chauvin Day

If you're worried that this is a day to celebrate chauvinists—you're actually kind of right. But don't worry: On the anniversary of Napoleon Bonaparte's birthday, we celebrate the interesting etymological history of the word chauvinism, which comes from a man named Nicolas Chauvin, who idealized Napoleon so much that he became internationally mocked for his blind loyalty to a cause. From there the term became associated with any misguided or ill-intentioned adherence to a particular cause, and finally, the discriminatory mindset it refers to today. And now, for some reason, we honor him and it.

23. August 15: International Geocaching Day

Harry Potter: Wizards Unite fans all over the world will be participating in this celebration without even knowing it.

24. August 15: National Relaxation Day

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Preferably celebrated in a hammock, on a beach, or with a pooped pup.

25. August 16: Joe Miller’s Joke Day

Joe Miller was an 18th century English actor whose reputation for being serious was so well known, we now hold an offbeat joke-telling holiday in his honor.

26. August 16: National Roller Coaster Day

The amusement first took root in the U.S. as a means of distracting people from unsavory entertainments. More than 130 years later, it's still going strong.

27. August 18: Bad Poetry Day

Roses are red / Violets are blue/ You probably saw this joke coming/ But we made it anyway.

28. August 19: National Aviation Day

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Franklin Delano Roosevelt laid out the ultimate burn by declaring Orville Wright's birthday National Aviation Day. Why he chose to honor Orville over Wilbur in 1939 is a mystery to historians, but we think National Aviation Day is a great time to start preposterous rumors based on wild speculation, i.e. maybe Wilbur Wright was a figment of Orville’s imagination. (It could also have had something to do with the fact that Orville was still alive when FDR made the day official ... and Wilbur was not.)

29. August 21: National Poet's Day

A day to soothe the bruised egos of poets mocked just three days prior on August 18's Bad Poetry Day.

30. August 21: National Senior Citizens Day

Now this is the holiday for which Reagan would have wanted to be remembered. On August 19th, 1988, a proclamation was made by the then-president that deemed August 21st as a national day to give older U.S. citizens thanks and a heartfelt salute. Decades later, we're still doing it.

31. August 22: National Tooth Fairy Day

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Because anyone who can make a money magically appear under your pillow deserves a day of feting.

32. August 26: National Dog Day

Be sure to give a dog—or all the dogs—you love an extra treat or belly rub. Because they're all good boys and girls.

33. August 26: Women’s Equality Day

Celebrated on the anniversary of the certification of the 19th Amendment, which prohibits discrimination in voting rights on the basis of sex.

34. August 28: National Bow Tie Day

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Celebrate by learning how to tie one.

35. August 31: National Trail Mix Day

Also known as National GORP Day. We love us a handy bag of “good ol’ raisins and peanuts,” but let’s be honest: the addition of M&M’s are what make trail mix truly great.