Fish on Christmas Eve – Italian Tradition
My family came to the USA in 1906 and we have never eaten meat on Christmas Eve. We always have fish, but only one kind. It is a dried salted cod fish that is called “bacalao.” The cod is soaked overnight and the water is changed often to leech out as much salt as possible. It is then floured and fried in olive oil.
At Christmas time, the Italian traditions were strongly followed, especially those of Christmas Eve. As Italy turned often to fish as a substitute for meat, the preparation of fish became important. Meat was not an easy commodity to come by in the small towns of Italy and very costly, while the beautiful seas could be a bountiful source of food supply for its people.
I believe that this tradition of no meat on Christmas Eve also followed the fasting laws of the Catholic Church in effect at the time, which is prevalent in Italy. (This is a personal opinion).
My great grandmother told the story of 13 dishes in all being served in honor of the 12 Apostles and Christ at the Last Supper.