I Believe in the Seven Fishes

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I believe in fish – seven fish, to be exact. My family is Italian so we celebrate Christmas Eve with an Italian tradition called “The Feast of Seven Fishes.” There are several theories about the origins and symbolism of the seven fish, but to me, the fish mean family because they bring mine together every year.

I believe in salmon. We drizzle the salmon with olive oil, sprinkle on capers, and cover it with cucumbers sliced paper-thin to look like scales. The salmon is my mom’s favorite dish. My mom and I are seldom able to spend time alone together. I love Christmas Eve day because I get to talk to her for hours as we cook, drink red wine, and listen to music.

I believe in oysters. Even though my dad will eat anything in front of him, chopped oysters baked with orzo are his favorite. This past summer, he and I would go to an oyster bar after work and eat plates of oysters on the half shell. When I eat oysters, I think of him.

I believe in calamari. My aunt, uncle, grandmother, and cousins always bring calamari, which is the only fish my brother will eat. My grandmother’s bleach-blonde up-do is the first thing you see as she comes through the doorway, followed by her fur coat, a ring for every finger, big hoop earrings, and countless gold necklaces with Italian horn pendants to protect against the maloik. My cousins always run through the door in matching sweater-vests while my uncle carries the presents. My aunt, whose red nails always match her holiday sweater, carries in the calamari. When I eat calamari, I think of all of them.

I believe in crab. The manicotti shells we stuff with crab and ricotta are the most time-consuming dish to prepare. But my mom and I always make it because it was my great-aunt’s favorite dish. Last Christmas was our first Christmas without her after she lost her battle to cancer. I will always think of my great-aunt as I pour the thick béchamel sauce over the manicotti and sprinkle it with freshly chopped basil.

I believe in mussels and clams. Served over linguine, this is my favorite dish. It reminds me of our family vacation to the Outer Banks when my cousin and I would eat seafood for every meal. His brother can’t even stand the smell of fish, so he gets a special plate of chicken fingers and mashed potatoes on Christmas Eve.

I believe in shrimp. My other grandparents always bring shrimp cocktail. It reminds me of when I used to watch Disney movies at their house while eating shrimp for dinner. My best friend, who’s Jewish, has spent Christmas Eve with my family since we were kids. She also likes shrimp because she can’t even have shellfish in her kosher household.

As we kids have gotten older, it’s been harder for everyone to coordinate schedules and see one another during the year, but Christmas Eve is a guaranteed time when we are together.

I love my large, chaotic, loud Italian family, and they are the reason I will always believe in the seven fish.

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