By RONDA GREGORY
News & Journal Staff Writer
The Southern-Italian and American-Italian holiday observance of keeping vigil in waiting on the midnight birth of the Holy Christ Child – the Feast of the Seven Fishes – is traditionally celebrated by serving a seafood meal on Christmas Eve. According to established custom, at least seven seafood dishes are featured at “La Vigilia” meal -sometimes even more.
In keeping with the spirit of this Italian observance, Main Street Fairmont will host the ninth annual Feast of the Seven Fishes from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 13 in historic downtown Fairmont on Monroe Street.
Attracting thousands of visitors each year, the popular street fair is dedicated to preserving Italian-American cultural and culinary traditions, said Kate Greene, Director of Main Street Fairmont.
“This is a cherished cultural event for all of north-central West Virginia,” Greene said. “Among the southern-Italian immigrant community, this tradition has managed to survive, especially in this area.”
Robert Tinnell, one of the founders of the festival whose award-applauded graphic novel Feast of the Seven Fishes helped reignite interest in the tradition, said the festival creates nostalgia of a by-gone time.
“The festival provides a throw-back to the way we experienced the holidays when I was a kid, actually doing things like eating and visiting and listening to music and enjoying one another’s company,” he said.
According to Greene, the festival offers authentic Italian foods that showcase local chefs and restaurants.
“Come out to sample some favorites such as lupini beans, fried smelt and calamari, soups, sandwiches, pastries and breads, sold along the street,” she said.
Festival visitors can also expect local beer and wine vendors as well, Greene added.
Those wanting to learn how to prepare a variety of old and new Italian recipes that they can serve at home on Christmas Eve or anytime can do so at the Festival Cucina cooking school. For $20, school participants not only cook, but also get to sample their dishes, Greene said.
Entertainment will include area bands, dancers and vocalists performing a unique combination of Italian and Christmas music on center stage.
With holiday medleys and sounds in the background, people can wrap-up their holiday shopping at the festival, too.
“Crafters will showcase the best of their Italian roots and Appalachian heritage,” Greene continued. “We try to highlight our local artisans.”
To keep visitors warm and dry, Greene said festival organizers are planning for possible inclement weather by having more activities under roof.
Leisha Elliott, a long-time Marion County resident and Executive Director of the Convention and Visitors Bureau of Marion County, said she truly enjoys the festival and has attended most years.
“I’m not Italian, but I do appreciate the food, the culture, and especially the cooking school,” she said.
Her favorite vendor food item is the fried dough dipped in either cinnamon sugar or powdered sugar. “They’re so fresh … and delicious,” she added.
Greene said the festival is a great way to enjoy the holiday season.
“Come to the festival to eat, shop, visit with friends and family and to celebrate Fairmont’s authentic Italian-American heritage,” she said.
Elliott said with so much variety at the festival, no one should be disappointed in coming out to celebrate.
“It’s well worth it,” she said.