It began as the last night of the Advent fast, no meat allowed.
Today, even people who choose not to fast enjoy the bounty of the sea...any seven seafood items you like.
Allentown authors Rocco and Linda Maniscalco have chronicled the tradition and lots of recipes.
Its their new book, "Italian Christmas Eve: The Feast of Seven Fishes". They explain that the number seven honors the seven sacraments of the Catholic Church, although some families serve 13 fishes...one each for Jesus and his Apostles.
In any case, the tradition marks an annual boom for seafood stores like Ippolito's at 13th and Dickinson in South Philadelphia.
Owner Anthony D'Angelo says his store is packed December 23rd with a constant flow of people buying their favorites.
While he offers a remarkable selection of fresh seafood year-round, he says most people want baccala...salted, dried cod.
During the holidays, many customers splurge on things like scallops, shrimp and lobster. How you serve the seafood, like the choice of which to serve is up to you.
The Maniscalcos say they enjoy making the traditional Italian seafood stew, cioppino, with all seven selections in one delicious pot.
It lets you put everything in a slow cooker rather than spending hours preparing the meal. That recipe and many more are in the book, along with a directory of seafood merchants from here to upstate New York.
You can buy the book in many of those stores, including Ippolito's. Or visit their website, Linda's Kitchen Corner where you'll also find other delicious Italian-American recipes like butter cookies.
Ippolito's Seafood is at 13th and Dickinson in South Philadelphia.
You may phone them at 215-389-8906 or visit them online at Ippolito's Seafood.