By Lou Baldwin
Special to The CS&T

Baccala, calamari, smelts, shrimp, mussels, clams, scungigli, oysters, you name it. You’ve got to love the Italians. Who else can turn a fast into a feast? It’s called the Feast of the Seven Fishes, and by tradition it was held on Christmas Eve or, liturgically-speaking, during the Christmas vigil.

Until recently this was supposed to be a day of fast (limited food) and abstinence (no meat or meat products). In Italy they kind of ignored the fast part but stuck to the abstinence through a sumptuous fish dinner, with yes, seven varieties of fish and other seafood.

This year you can experience it at Positano Coast Restaurant at 212 Walnut St. in Philadelphia, not on Christmas Eve, but on Tuesday, Dec. 21, from 6 to 10 p.m. {{more}}

Italian immigrants brought the custom over from the old country. Sometimes there are not quite seven varieties and in other cases even more than seven.

Radio talk show host Dom Giordano (The Big Talker 1210 AM) remembers the seven fishes from the days when he was growing up in South Philly’s King of Peace Parish.

“People had more time in those days, now it is more difficult,” he said. His family ate fish on Christmas Eve, but not the full seven varieties.

For the second year in a row Giordano, Cardinal Justin Rigali and Pennsylvania Supreme Court Chief Justice Ron Castille will attend the dinner. Among others expected to attend are Governor-elect Tom Corbett and Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter.

Cardinal Rigali does a monthly radio program with Giordano, and it was at one of these shows, “I proposed it to him,” Giordano said. The Cardinal’s monthly appearance on the program will also take place that night.

“Last year we had about 150 people come. So far this year we have slightly more than that, and it’s a big place. We are hoping for more,” Giordano said.

As for what fish he prefers, Giordano, whose roots are in the Abruzzi section of Southern Italy, said, “I’m a big flounder person, and I like baccala (salted cod). It’s an acquired taste.”

Tickets for the Feast of Seven Fishes are $75 and available online at

Lou Baldwin is a member of St. Leo Parish and a freelance writer.