Christmas Eve & Seven Fish
I am of Italian descent and my family still follows the Christmas Eve tradition of a meatless meal. The tradition is a religious one, based on the number 7 being the number associated with God, just as the number 6 is the number associated with the devil.
Although the types of fish may differ from region to region, my grandmother served baccala (cod), calamari (squid), fish salad (made of shrimp, squid and shellfish), a special Christmas sauce made with smelt and nuts, eel, and now we have crab or shrimp before our meal.
At midnight, a candle was lit in front of a statue of the Virgin Mary as bread, wine and a piece of fish (usually the cod) was eaten.
The tradition calls for you to visit seven churches on Christmas Eve also. You do this early in the day before your evening meal.
On Christmas, dishes with meat were served and this was a true celebration since many people in Southern Italy were farmers and meat was considered an extravagance.
On Christmas day, my grandmother would make cavatelli with meatballs and sausage, there would be a large antipasto tray with meats and cheeses, stuffed artichokes, eggplant parmesan, and the real treat was braccioles.
Today, we continue these traditions with the addition of American traditions of turkey and ham for the non-Italian family members.
It was also not considered a holiday unless there was plenty of fruit and a huge bowl of nuts with a nutcracker on the buffet. Dessert consisted of cookies, cannoli and usually a bombe cake.