Saturday, December 2, 2017

Italian Family Christmas

I first had the idea to write Italian family Christmas in December 2016. I wanted to document our holiday traditions to leave as a legacy for my children.

The cornerstone of our celebration is Christmas Eve - when we prepare the Vigil, or The Feast of Seven Fishes. This tradition was introduced to my husband's family by his adopted grandmother, Cora McKee. It has been a part of southern Italian heritage for centuries.

The origin of the Feast is linked to the Seven Sacraments of the Catholic Church. Some Italian families pare the feast down to three courses, representing the Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Ghost.

By the time I joined the family, the tradition remained without the religious symbolism.

Cora’s Christmas Eve dinner began with Aioli (anchovy sauce) served over angel hair pasta. She then served the main entrees: Baccala (salted cod) prepared as zeppoles (fritters) and in a boiled salad, and small fried whiting served whole.  We enjoyed the Feast of Four Fishes: the perfect number.

In the past quarter-century, since I took over the Vigil preparation, it has undergone a transformation. We continue to serve  Aioli pasta, Baccala fritters and cod salad - although the older generation eats this salad more than the new. We’ve added boiled shrimp as a pre-feast appetizer. Broiled salmon filets replace the fried whiting. The main entree, however, is King Crab. We typically plan two pounds per adult. It is an extravagant meal, but such a joy to watch all family members savor it.

Last December, as my son and I were setting the dining table for a family gathering, I discussed the shopping list for the upcoming Christmas Eve Vigil. While he understood such ingredients as crab, shrimp, and salmon, he was a bit confused when I talked about baccala and anchovies. I then realized no one else in the family knew how to prepare this traditional meal. Sure, I have the recipes tucked away in the file box - and my children are adept enough to follow written instructions - but the tradition extends to more than a few words on an index card.

I decided to jot down a few notes, and take a few pictures, to leave as a tutorial for my children if they want to prepare the Vigil once I am no longer able. This documentation gives them all the necessary instruction.

Since it is difficult to separate the Vigil from the rest of our Christmas celebration, I decided my jottings should also include other favorite recipes and special events. Simple notes in a journal soon blossomed into a full-fledged book, including family stories, favorite recipes, and a bit of our Italian history.

While the primary purpose of this book is to leave a legacy for my children, I thought some of the recipes and traditions might be of interest to others.

For the next two weeks, I'm  offering a GoodReads giveaway for 3 free copies of Italian Family Christmas. Simple Complete the form e and you will automatically be entered. Names will be selected on December 14th and the winner will receive an autographed copy before Christmas.

    Enter Giveaway

* This post is a part of BethFish Reads Weekend Cooking Linkup. For more delicious recipes, please visit her weekly blog feature.



  1. Wow! How great that you put this together! One of my sisters-in-laws married into an Italian family and she always makes the 7 fishes on Christmas Eve.

    1. We have not quite developed seven different dishes, but we're close :)

  2. I've read about the various fish dishes for an Italian Christmas celebration -- your variations all are mouth-watering!

    Best... mae at

    1. I will be posting several of the recipes to the blog in the upcoming weeks, Mae. My favorites are the aioli sauce and the baccala zeppoles :)

  3. This is the first I've heard of this tradition; and how wonderful that you are writing about it and continuing the celebration. I Hope for great success with the book!

  4. How wonderful that you put all your family recipes together for your Christmas celebrating. Good Italian Christmas recipes are priceless- great idea-

    1. I'm learning that having all the recipes in one place quite convenient :)


Related Posts with Thumbnails