If you’ve never experienced an Italian Christmas Eve, you really need to make an Italian friend, particularly one with roots in Southern Italy (my family is from Calabria) to experience La Vigilia, or its Americanized version — the Feast of the Seven Fishes.
Steeped in Catholic tradition, the entirely seafood meal marks the vigil before the Christmas Day feast. Growing up in the 80s, my Aunt would host the feast in her small house in Southern California, putting out enormous plates of food late in the afternoon, with hundreds (yes, hundreds) of people parading in and out of the house over the course of the night. As the night got longer, people got drunker, the games of morra got louder, and the food got colder. I always remember never getting to taste much of the food, and certainly not tasting it as it was intended.
As my aunt got older, and eventually passed on, my parents took over the tradition and changed it up a bit. The close family would gather in the mid-afternoon for a sit-down meal; it was too much food to eat in one sitting. After we ate, closer friends would parade through the house throughout the evening, essentially eating our leftovers.
I took over the feast a few years ago and changed it up again. I wanted to make sure everyone, could taste everything as it was intended. So, i turned it into an all day-affair – almost like a tasting menu. We do appetizers at 3, the first course at 5, a pasta at 7, main course at 9, and then the dessert to ring in Christmas around midnight (our church does an 11pm service on Christmas Eve). Some people stay for the whole feast, but the intent is for everyone to come and go as they please, so some people come for certain sections, but they all get to enjoy the dish as its intended. While this does keep me in the kitchen for most of the night, (we have an open kitchen) — I actually find it more relaxing than cooking everything at once. Instead of cooking for hours on end, and then watching everything get cold — I cook for 30-45 min, then get an hour or so off to enjoy some wine, talk with friends (and watch others do the dishes).
Soon we’ll bring the morra games back…
I’ll break it all down by courses below-