This feast is known by different names, including La Vigilia de Natale (the Vigil of the Birth) and the Feast of the Seven Fishes.
A custom dating back to the fifth or sixth century, some suggest it is rooted in the Catholic tradition of abstaining from meat on various days throughout the year.
Why seven fish? The number seven pops up frequently in catholic tradition – seven sacraments, seven deadly sins, seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, seven days of creation, allegedly seven days of the holy family’s journey to Bethlehem. However, some folks opt to serve nine fish, or 13 (in honor of Jesus and the 12 apostles) or 12 (Jesus and the 11 apostles, excluding Judas).
The choice of which seven fish will be served can vary from crab legs and lobster to sardines and smelt.
- Little Blue Book, December 24
What traditions does your family observe on Christmas Eve? Share some in the comments below.