Early question about Meal for Natale

As a nation state, Italy has emerged only in 1871. Until then the country was politically divided into a large number of independant cities, provinces and islands. The currently available evidences point out to a dominant Etruscan, Greek and Roman cultural influence on today's Italians.
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Early question about Meal for Natale

Postby bonval » 15 Nov 2008, 08:39

I am finally printing family history books for our 4 sons and several other in-laws as Christmas gifts. I used wonderful templates from ancestry.com for the genealogy pages and filled them with photos, redid all timelines to reflect famous Italian events....over 200 pages! Then I also wrote a history of the family telling as much as I could of family legends anecdotes etc. also with tons of photos as far back as we could locate. Needless to say I have been at this for several years!
Anyway Val always talks about the 7 fish dishes but he says his mother also made 21 dishes - does anyone know the significance of that number?
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Re: Early question about Meal for Natale

Postby nazca » 15 Nov 2008, 11:57

Hi there,

Southern Italians around the world celebrate Christmas Eve with a Feast of the Seven Fishes, also known as La Vigilia (Italian: "the vigil").

It is a meal that typically consists of seven different seafood dishes. Some Italian families have been known to celebrate with 9, 11 or 13 different seafood dishes. This celebration is a commemoration of the wait, Vigilia di Natale, for the midnight birth of the baby Jesus.The tradition of eating seafood on Christmas Eve dates from the medieval Catholic tradition of abstinence--in this case, refraining from the consumption of meat or milk products--on Fridays and specific holy days. As no meat or butter could be used, observant Catholics would instead eat fish, typically fried in oil.

There are many hypotheses for what the number "7" relates to, one being the number of Sacraments in the Roman Catholic Church. Another theory is that seven is a number representing 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 components to the meal are similar for most families as there are always some seven combinations of anchovies, sardines, dried salt cod, smelts, eels, squid, octopus, shrimp, mussels, oysters, and clams. In the mixes are pastas, vegetables, baked or fried kale patties, baked goods, and the pride-filled homemade wine.

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I'm searching lost relatives and descendant of my greatgrandfather Vincenzo Genualdi (or Gennaldi or Genuardi) and my greatgrandmother Concetta Davola (their sons: Angela, Carmela, Antonio, Bartolomeo, Ernesto, Simone, Riccardo, Maria) went in Chicago,Ill., and New Orleans, in 1880-1920 from Sicily. Other family related : Jacobucci or Jacopucci (from Central Italy).
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Re: Early question about Meal for Natale

Postby bonval » 16 Nov 2008, 20:45

Thanks Nazca - I figured it had some relationship to The Divinity -was sure about the 7 -- just could not figure out why 21! Maybe 3 times 7 for the Divinity times the 7? It has been fun writing the book and gathering all the memories - and as we talked, his family would recall such sweet old memories. I would place the camcorder somewhere discretely and let it run to record. That is one trick I am so happy to have used - taping his 77 year old sister on our last trip naming folks in the old albums and he and she reminescing over those long gone! I am only sorry I did not start sooner - we missed that all before his mother died ten years ago! She was in her nineties and now many stories and names are lost with her!
We have much information on his dad's family because a cousin also helped save information - but his mom's side is mostly lost - we have not even been able to track his maternal great-grandparents - only his grandfather and grandmother. We know their town is Campodimele and most records are held in Itri - and we found all the paternal records in Itri - but even with family still ALL in Itri, we cannot find any records for the maternal side. Strange but I am sure sooner or later something will suddenly fall in place. I have a suspiscian what the great grandfather's name is (Luigi) but mostly so far by probability, not proof!
I cannot begin to stress how much help I have gleaned from this site over the years - I may not post often but read frequently and all the hints have helped!
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Re: Early question about Meal for Natale

Postby GinaAdriana » 28 Dec 2008, 19:44

My family is Southern Italian, and every Christmas we eat Pasta, Crab, and Clams. lol only 2 fishes!
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Re: Early question about Meal for Natale

Postby wldspirit » 28 Dec 2008, 22:50

The only fish we eat now for the holiday is crab and lobster,
sad how family traditions can fade.....it used to be a major event
where even distant family members gathered for that one
get together and everyone attended Mass....I miss the old days.
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Re: Early question about Meal for Natale

Postby bonval » 29 Dec 2008, 02:09

I, too, was missing all the old family traditions :( so that is why all the genealogy gifts this year. We had the 2nd cousins we just met for dinner on Christmas Day - how wonderful to expand family! My husband was happy as well as they were. :D
We cooked for two days to get ready but did the 21 dishes - all from Italy - most family recipes! For myself, it was a joy to have my niece and another sister in law phone us from Italy Christmas morning. We were on speaker phone together while we all compared menus and recipes! Talk about fun - the next best thing to being together!
After dinner we exchanged gifts and it was fantastic to see the reactions to the cookbooks, calendars and the Family History books. The history books had the family group sheets with photos and of course the basic tree - then the second part was my journal of the last thirty some years - impressions of family members from Italy, photos, funny and sometimes poignant stories. The last third of the book is copies of all the original documents from Italy. The book is about 5 inches thick - and over 400 pages but everyone ende pleased! All my begging for information from family for the last several years paid off! Naturally my research is not finished but I did have a total of 741 people so far documented. Now the complaint is they want more stories! :?
Even my sister and her children enjoyed the cookbooks and history books! They had fun teasing my husband about his family but they enjoyed all the stories. Everyone read the stories and gabbed about the old photos. It brought back a lot ot memories for everyone. For Val and his 2nd cousin, it was a trip back in time and they both were so pleased!
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Re: Early question about Meal for Natale

Postby elba » 29 Dec 2008, 15:07

My 'Italian' family are all from northern Italy - mainly Lombardy and the Valtellina and they still celebrate the Vigilia di Natale with a seven fishes supper...

I think it has more to do with religion than ethnic locality. It is a real 'must' with the Italo-Americans in the USA, but most certainly it's origins can be found in the typical traditions of many Italian regions - and to eat a lean supper on the Eve was carried by many of the emigrants in search of their fortune.

Fish had become celebrated as the symbol of fertility since the times of the early Romans and was used by the early Christians as a sign to recognise each other during their persecution by the Romans.

This was because the letters of the word 'fish' in ancient Greek, “ichthysâ€
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Re: Early question about Meal for Natale

Postby donnawright » 27 Jan 2009, 09:35

I live in Texas now but came from the Pittsburgh area originally. This is something you might want to save for the future. On KDKA radio, Rob Pratte invites local Italians, some of whom are business owners, to be on the radio and all they talk about is the 7 fishes and their family traditions. I loved listening to them. I bet you can stream those later this year. I used to listen when I was driving my LONG drive to work, and he did it each of the several years I was driving. In fact, I will get in touch with Rob and post under Italian Culture what I find. How's that?

My mother used to make Baccala (spelling?). I remember as a kid just the smell made me gag!!! Also used to put anchovies in little donuts. I have her recipe for Italian cookies made at Christmas time. I made them again this year and they were fabulous -- little cookie drops with bright food coloring confectioners sugar icing.

Anyone familiar with a macaroni dish? The noodles were curly on the edges like a much smaller version of lasagne noodles, mixed with honey and ground nuts. It was also always on the Christmas dinner table. Good hot or cold.

I was the last of 6 children and born in 1949. As far as I can remember we did not do the 7 fishes on Christmas eve. Now I have to ask my older siblings all 9 to 17 years older than I.

I would like to know more about Italian traditions. Maybe it's time we incorporate some of them into our American lives -- those of us who have not.
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Re: Early question about Meal for Natale

Postby misbris » 27 Jan 2009, 15:13

The pasta shape itself is called Mafalda (at least, in New Jersey) But I am not familiar with the sweet dish. It sounds almost like Kugel. Was it a dessert or a side dish? Where in Italy was your family from?
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Re: Early question about Meal for Natale

Postby PeterTimber » 27 Jan 2009, 15:33

The sweet fried things with the curly edges coated with honey and/or sprinkles had a dialect name which may be found at www.dialettando.com =Peter=
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Re: Early question about Meal for Natale

Postby donnawright » 27 Jan 2009, 15:52

Yes, now I do remember Mafalda as the name. My mother used to call it macaroni with honey and nuts, or at least that's what I remember. I could be wrong. It probably has an Italian name. I have not made it for years. My husband did not like it... too strange to him (German/Irish). My children did not like it either. But they are grown now, so I will try again. I have to find the macaroni, tho. I'm in Texas where so much is southwestern.

This dish was not fried, as Peter mentioned, but I'll check out the link sent and see if I can find the mac/nuts/honey.

I would say it is a side dish. It would be much too rich for an entree, and I never heard it called a dessert. It was not made often, so when it was served, it was a real treat.

The little Italian drop cookies with conf sugar icing are a somewhat dry cookie... not too sweet... I would like to know if they also have an Italian name. Man!! Mine came out actually better than my mother's and it's HER recipe.

In Pennsylvania I would buy frozen gnocchi. Not nearly as good as homemade, but no time for homemade. When I got to Texas, I asked in a grocery store if they have gnocchi, and the person I asked thought I was talking dirty.

My mother's people are from Pianopoli, and my dad's people are from Sorano. I started researching the Sorano group and found the Pianopoli people sort of accidentally. My mother was born here but half of her siblings came over as kids. My dad was born in Italy, married in the states.
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Re: Early question about Meal for Natale

Postby bonval » 27 Jan 2009, 22:01

Don't forget to share the recipes with us -- mind sharing the cookie one? And I remember someone years ago in Val's family making the sweet macaroni -- hmmm -- will have to ask my sister-in-law about that one to see if she knows?
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Re: Early question about Meal for Natale

Postby Clicker » 29 Jan 2009, 22:02

Actually, we do fried macaroni with the curly edges at home...I either put icing sugar on them or honey and nuts. We just called them crostili. All we do is make pasta (as per usual) roll it out a little thinner, cut with a roller that gives a 'rick-rack' edge in large trianlgesa nd fry in oil until they are golden brown....remove and top......I must confess though that the far and away favourite is icing sugar over the honey and nuts.
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