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The meaning of the seven fish of the Italian Christmas Eve


Italians traditionally eat fish on Christmas Eve. Growing up in New York City in an Italian area with Italian parents, we always stuck to the tradition. On Christmas Eve, we would have fish for dinner because we would attend Christmas Eve Mass at midnight. Italian Catholics believe that you are not supposed to eat meat before attending Mass.

The “seven fish” tradition is most likely linked to the popularity of the number seven in the bible and catechism. The number seven represents the number of sacraments, the number of days in the creation story and a number that represents perfection in the bible.

Italians have no set menu for their seafood feasts on Christmas Eve. We cook what we like to eat.

This is my favorite seafood recipe.

Zuppa de Mussels


1 bag well-rinsed mussels (or 3 pounds)

2 tablespoons olive oil

3 cloves minced or crushed garlic

of a small can of tomato paste

cup white wine

1 tsp dried oregano

1/2 tsp of crushed red pepper (optional)

black pepper to taste

(Do not add salt to the recipe. Mussels have their own natural salts)


Heat olive oil and then garlic in a large pot. Just brown garlic. Stir in tomato paste and cook down. Add spices. Deglaze with the white wine. Add the mussels and cover. Stir the mussels after two minutes and then replace cover. Cook for another three minutes and stir again. Mussels are thoroughly cooked when all mussels are open. If any mussels do not open, discard these.

You can serve this over your favorite pasta or with crusty Italian bread or garlic bread to soak up all of the wonderful juices.

(Peter Grillo is sous chef at The Summit Restaurant and Banquet Facility in Masthope, PA.)

TRR photo by Emily Grillo
Peter Grillo (Click for larger version)