Is there a better place to celebrate “La Vigilia” — otherwise known as the “Feast of the Seven Fishes” — than in Rhode Island? Our large Italian American population and nickname “The Ocean State” make us the ideal setting for this expansive, seafood-only meal that is a beloved Christmas Eve tradition.
There are differing stories on how La Vigilia di Natale (“the Vigil of the birth of Jesus” in Italian) began. Some say that in an effort to abstain from meat and butter, medieval Roman Catholics would instead rely on fried fish. Others say it was due to the fact that fish markets were traditionally closed on Christmas Day, forcing fishmongers to make use of whatever precious fish was left (often little bits of a lot of fish) before it spoiled. Yet another version of the story maintains that the seven courses represent the seven Catholic sacraments: baptism, Holy Communion, reconciliation, confirmation, anointing of the sick, marriage, and holy orders.
A number of local restaurants offer the La Vigilia meal, both on Christmas Eve and throughout the month, but the heart of Rhode Island’s Italian culture is Federal Hill, where old-world traditions meet modern culinary expertise.
Here are five restaurants on the Hill (and one club) serving La Vigilia this holiday season:
You can enjoy the Feast of the Seven Fishes on Christmas Eve at lunch or dinnertime; the restaurant will serve lunch from 11:30 a.m.–2 p.m., and dinner from 2–8 p.m. (the regular lunch and dinner menus also will be available).
Vongole e Gamberi (spaghetti and clams), citrus-marinated squid and baby octopus salad, and the fresh catch of the day are among the “seven fishes” served Christmas Eve at Trattoria Zooma.
Want to feast on the seven fishes but have other plans for Christmas Eve? Pane e Vino offers La Vigilia every night from Dec. 14–24; the multicourse meal includes a salted cod salad, fried smelts, linguine with littlenecks, and pan-fried John Dory.
Massimo is another Providence restaurant that traditionally serves a Vigilia dinner at Christmastime. The feast will be laid out on Christmas Eve; for other dates, contact the restaurant.
The Italian American Historical Society
The Italian American Historical Society’s mission is to preserve and promote the artistic, cultural, historical, literary and musical heritage of Italy in America — and, of course, that includes food. The society’s La Vigilia celebration will take place on Dec. 6 at 6:30 p.m. at the Santa Maria DiPrata Society Hall in Cranston — a nice option for those who want to experience the feast early to kick off the Christmas season.
Looking for other options for holiday eats, we've gathered a list of local restaurants open on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and New Year's Eve.