Feast of the Seven Fishes (2020)

Shaylena Hess, Staff Reporter

The Feast of The Seven Fishes is an annual Italian Christmas Eve winter street festival tradition. It started in Italy as the La Vigilia (the vigil for the Christ child) and was brought to America by Italian immigrants. This annual celebration in Fairmont helps to recognize the Italian immigrant culture’s contributions to the region and to preserve their culinary traditions, as well as to cement North-Central WV as a region where this tradition has a strong foothold. 

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People can go to experience and enjoy the wonders of Italian heritage. It is an Italian American tradition in which is said that: 

“No one knows how or when it started. You will often hear people say it is an America only thing.  That’s not true. Northern Italians do not practice the Feast. Southern Italians and Sicilians do. I think perhaps the name (Seven Fishes) evolved here. I never heard it called that until the ’80s.” ~Joel Dugan, Associate Professor of Art (Fairmont State Univeristy)

For many, this meal is the most important meal of the year, bringing families closer to their rootsThis festival’s traditions vary from village to village and even from family to family. In the early 1900s Italian American families altered their home country’s Christmas Eve tradition by creating a seafood meal consisting of seven courses, thus the beginning of The Feast of The Seven Fishes. This is said to have created a connection with home by celebrating the sea, a major connection to their Italian roots.   

The City of Fairmont celebrates this history and tradition by having a Festival every year to not only celebrate The Feast of The Seven Fishes, but also the anniversary of the founding of Fairmont. This year marks the 201st anniversary On January 19th, 1820 Fairmont was established by the Virginia Legislature on Boaz Fleming’s Farm and 201 years later it is a thriving business town with a rich history and many small familyowned businesses.  

 The Feast is practiced by many Italian families in the region and that means Fairmont. [Celebrating] the festival was born out of…the attention it drew to the tradition and the area.”  ~Joel Dugan.

Last Fall (2019), Fairmont State Art students in the 2D design classes got to be a part of this history. Students were assigned to create two piecesone for the Feast of the Seven Fishes, the other for the 200th anniversary of the founding of The City of Fairmont. These would be turned into the front and back of flags that were hanged downtown during the event 

 “We came up with our designs that we thought best represented both topics.” ~Mackenzee Buck, a student in class.  

 For this assignment many students did research on the history of Fairmont and the Feast of the Seven Fishes. They looked through books, researched online, with some even visiting Fairmont State’s own Frank & Jane Gabor WV Folklife Center. The Frank & Jane Gabor WV Folklife Center, located on Fairmont State’s campus, is dedicated to the identification, preservation, and perpetuation of our region’s rich cultural heritage through academic studies, educational programs, festivals, performances, exhibits, and publications.  

 The Festival has become a very large draw for tourists and for locals.  It is heavily attended and extremely popular with locals.  The Festival Cucina cooking school always sells out.  The street vendors often sell out.  People plan trips back to the area to visit friends and enjoy the day.  We have had attendees from all over the states: Pennsylvania, Maryland, Ohio, Chicago, NY, and California to name a few.”  ~Joel Dugan 

 What Fairmont State is doing: 

 This Fall (2020), Art students at Fairmont State will be working on a mural for the Feast of Seven Fishes.

For additional information on the possible origins of this Feast, the Denver Library has an interesting article here.

For more information on this year’s Feast, contact Main Street Fairmont at [email protected] This year’s festival will occur on December 11, 9:00 AM – Dec 12, 5:00 PM in Downtown Fairmont.