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TellMeAStory
01-30-2019, 05:15 PM
Any Italian-Americans out there?

My character (non-Italian-American) gets invited to attend one. It's 1939 San Francisco, but I'm thinking that shouldn't matter--or should it?

Are there seven dishes, each featuring a different fish, or one dish, such as cioppino, that contains all seven?

Will guests bring panettone as a gift to the host? Something else?

Is there a special blessing? Any blessing? If a prominent family, would a priest have been invited?

What else should I know?

benbenberi
01-30-2019, 06:56 PM
Not Italian myself, but I've lived around Italian-Americans most of my life. Feast of the 7 Fishes is definitely a popular tradition, which I think goes back to the early 1900s, so 1939 San Francisco would surely have had it going on. It's mostly a family-and-friends event, sort of the way Thanksgiving is. In religious terms it's just the Vigil of Christmas, i.e. Christmas Eve, so I don't think there are any special blessings or religious activities around the dinner -- that's what midnight Mass is for! As for the menu, it's really down to the particular family and how they like to do it, what their own favorite/traditional dishes are, and how elaborate a meal they want to have -- there's lots of variations. Family origin plays a part -- a family from Sicily will have different traditional dishes in their repertoire than a family from Genoa or a family from Venice. I imagine in San Francisco a cioppino is likely, but it's a feast -- that's not the only dish that's going to be served. At a minimum there has to be antipasti, after all, and a pasta course, and a salad (all of which are more opportunities to include fish -- scungilli salad! cod balls!), possibly more main courses, and dessert too (which probably does NOT include fish lol!). Technically the reason for all the fish is that it's still a fast until Christmas, so there will NOT be any red meat served.

There are lots of articles out there, tons of recipes & menus, etc. that can give you ideas.

WeaselFire
02-04-2019, 08:05 PM
First, there's no true menu for a Feast of the Seven Fishes. It's actually an American invention anyway. The basics date back to Roman times, pre-Christ. The evening before a major feast, you would eat light so you could feast heavily the next day. At the time, that meant fish since it was a lower food in class. Again, no specific menu, just eating fish and seafood.

Christians continued the tradition before major feast days and, eventually, it became a Christmas Eve tradition. Still seafood, still no specific menu. In America, Catholics merged a traditional seven course meal with the seafood concept, turning the pre-holiday fasting into a feast of its own. Traditionally the seven course meal would include an apertif (basic finger food), appetizer, salad, main course, cheese, dessert and coffee. This tends to morph into appetizer, salad, soup, main, cheese, dessert and drinks in many areas. In some areas, the Feast of Seven fishes is 12 courses, one for each of the apostles.

The menu can vary widely. The one I'm used to is appetizer of salt cod or smoked mullet dip with toast or crackers, a squid or Calamari salad, linguini with clams or other fish and pasta dish, a main fish dish like grouper francese, a cioppino or lobster bisque, limoncello gelato and a cannoli. Note that not all seven had seafood in them and that the soup course came nearer the end of the meal than the beginning. I've had haddock, lobster, clams casino, Caesar salad with salmon, grilled shrimp, zeppoli and a final limoncello in different meals. I've never had eel, though it was a traditional course for the Italian Catholic family in the neighborhood I grew up in, it was supposedly a Sicilian tradition. They also did a similar fish meal for their daughter's communion meal and the Good Friday meal.

Hope it helps.

Jeff

D. E. Wyatt
02-05-2019, 07:11 AM
Don't forget the special prayer.

Our Flounder, who art in heaven, Halibut be thy name...

Sorry. Couldn't resist...

benbenberi
02-05-2019, 06:44 PM
The basics date back to Roman times, pre-Christ. The evening before a major feast, you would eat light so you could feast heavily the next day. At the time, that meant fish since it was a lower food in class. Again, no specific menu, just eating fish and seafood.

Christians continued the tradition before major feast days and, eventually, it became a Christmas Eve tradition.

The Christian tradition that this feast derives from actually has nothing to do with eating light before a heavy meal or class ranking of foods. Rather, fasting and abstinence from meat are penitential acts intended to focus one on spiritual matters and do penance for sins. The 40 days of Lent, obviously, were a penitential season, but there were others as well, including Advent. Every Friday was supposed to be a fast. The eves of several holidays, including Christmas, were specifically designated for fasting & abstinence. On these occasions you were not allowed to eat meat, and in strict observance you were only supposed to eat one meal (though light snacks were sometimes allowed in addition). Since meat was defined as the flesh of (land dwelling) animals and birds, fish was therefore eaten on fast days.

The Feast of Seven Fishes, of course, is an Italian-American custom of extravagance and abundance -- the fish equivalent of the meat-heavy Italian-American dishes we all know and love that were wholly unknown back in the old country.