Before you get all crazy on me, let me explain a couple of things. BOTH sets of my grandparents came from Southern Italy. I have family there still and we keep in touch regularly, including visits to each others homes. About 30 years ago I heard of the 'feast of the seven fishes', and decided to make it a tradition in my house. I looked up all of the traditional dishes and made a few adaptations to customize it to our Americanized tastes. Over the years I added more dishes and my whole extended family came to look forward to my feast every Christmas Eve.

Dennis Malloy photo of Christmas Eve meal

Fast forward to 2001. That was the year I reunited with my family in Italy and it was then that two of my cousins and their family came to visit for Christmas. I couldn't wait to show off my Italian cooking skills and presented to them my version of the feast of the seven fishes. My cousin Anna and her husband looked at me and said, "the feast of what"? She said, "hey cetriolo, (slang for dummy) our grandparents came from small mountain towns in Calabria and Sicily, how were they gonna get seafood in their town at Christmas in 1910?!" She, of course, was right.

Many of the Italian immigrants that settled in New York and North Jersey were from the Naples area where the tradition of seafood on Christmas Eve did exist. It was very localized, but like with many Italian traditions and foods, they were very localized and/or strictly regional. However when they came here they were considered and referred to as "Italian", because Italians brought them here. I also learned that many of my Italian relatives and friends had never heard of pizzelles because those came from the Abruzzo Region of Italy and did not spread through all of Italy. Rice balls or 'arancini' are Sicilian and not every region makes them or are very familiar with them. And there are dozens of other foods and traditions that follow the same pattern.

So the 'feast of the seven fishes' has its roots in Southern Italy, but it is generally an Italian-American tradition developed and nurtured here in the U.S. by proud Italian immigrants from coastal communities in and around the Naples area from the early part of the last century. Wherever your ancestors came from and however you celebrate Christmas here in the greatest country on earth, eat, drink and be merry and enjoy the ones you love with whatever you're having!

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