Christmas Eve Is the Time for the Feast of (How Many?) Fishes

It is indeed the most wonderful time of the year. And Louis DiVita, author of A Wiser Guy, includes in his book an excellent fish recipe that can be enjoyed any time of the year.

Italians do it right. They celebrate Christmas for the entire month. Italians don't live to work -- they live to live..... Christmas Eve is the time for the "Feast of The Seven Fishes," though it is not called that by Italians; it's a term used by we Americans who think we know about what they do in Italy.

The tradition of eating seafood on Christmas Eve dates from the Roman Catholic tradition of abstaining from eating meat during certain times of the year. Observant Catholics would eat fish.

It is unclear when the term "Feast of the Seven Fishes" was popularized. The meal may include more or fewer fishes. "Seven" fishes as a fixed concept or name is unknown in Italy itself. Many of the oldest Italian-American families don't count the number of fish dishes. Some have suggested that the idea of "seven" fishes originated in restaurants.

What does the number "7" represent? No one seems to know. One popular theory is the number represents completion, as shown in Genesis 2:2: "By the seventh day God completed the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work." Other theories include: that the number represents the seven Sacraments of the Roman Catholic Church; or it represents the Seven hills of Rome that surround the cityIt may represent perfection (the traditional Biblical number for divinity is three, and for Earth is four, and the combination of these numbers, seven, represents God on Earth, or Jesus Christ).

The seafood served on Christmas Eve is meant to reflect the tradition of abstinence from meat until the actual feast of Christmas Day itself. Christmas Eve seafood dishes could include sword fish, tuna, salmon, octopus salad, smelts, calamari, spaghetti with clam sauce and that Italian classic, baccalĂ , or salted cod, which I personally don't like.

The main event is Christmas Day lunch. We're talking about a meal that can last for hours.

Christmas Day is when the beef is served. The event typically begins with antipasto: dry cured meats, salumi, fine Italian cheeses, olives, artichokes and what am I missing? The pasta is served first. Again, the kind of pasta varies by region. In Southern and Central Italy, baked pasta is mandatory. In Northern Italy,lasagne bolognese and usually manicotti and ravioli are all enjoyed heartily.

Finally, it's time for the main event. The roasted veal, baked chicken, sausages, braised beef -- all of these are usually enjoyed.

Now, here's Louis DiVita's recipe for Christmas Eve Fish Dinner.

Striped Bass or Red Snapper
4/6 Shrimp per person
4/6Clams per person
Clam Juice
Olive Oil 4.
Fresh Garlic
Fresh Parsley

Check with fish store on size of fish depending on how many people. Have fish scaled and guted, leave head on. In a deep baking pan (enough to cover the fish with clam juice) put in about 1/2 cup olive oil. Place fish in pan and coat it inside and out with chopped garlic (about 1/2 cup) and 1 cup chopped parsley. Then pour in clam juice to cover fish. Cover with foil and put on medium burners on stove top. Start your pasta water and drop in clams add linguine and about 2 minutes before you take out the linguine add shrimp and cover with foil. Once eyes of fish are pure white it is done.

Throughout A Wiser Guy, Louis refers to his Uncle Ernie who personally tutored him in the life. Uncle Ernie was the oldest son of Louis's grandfather, Paul Palmeri. Paul's brother (and Louis's great uncle) was Benedetto Angelo, aka "Buffalo Bill."

From Sicily's Castellammare Del Golfo, Paul and Benedetto Angelo first moved to upstate New York after arriving in the US and were closely allied with mob boss Stefano Magaddino and Joseph DiCarlo. The Palmeri brothers, who lived in Buffalo and Niagara Falls, also had associations with major Canadian mobsters such as Rocco Perri, the "Canadian Al Capone."

"Buffalo Bill" had died quite young of natural causes, while Paul eventually wound up in New Jersey, where he sparked up an old partnership with Willie Moretti.

But for now, excerpted from A Wiser Guy, is a short story about how Christmas can warm even the colder hearts of certain men who belonged to a secret society created hundreds of years ago and brought here by Italian immigrants who were sick and tired of finding all the good jobs already taken.

In the 1940s, the Palmeris moved to New Jersey, WW2 was on, and Uncle Ernie, well, was Ernie. But for all his faults, Uncle Ernie had a warm and caring side. For example, the time he was out Christmas shopping and got rear-ended. He was right in front of the fountain across from Marrocco’s Funeral Home. Ernie jumped out of his car, screaming, “What’s wrong with you? Where did you get your license?” The man driving was visibly shaken and while not injured, still struggled to get out of the car, with tears in his eyes. He said “I’m sorry.” “You should be, look at my car,” Ernie fumed. The man kept sobbing, “I just found out my son was killed in the war.” This hit Ernie where it really hurt. Now Ernie is apologizing sympathetically “I’m sorry,” he said. “Can I help you? Can I drive you someplace?” “Please, take my name and number. I will pay for your damages,” the man replied. “Don’t even think about it. Are you sure you’re OK?” Ernie’s compassion was sincere.