Why Oyster Stew Is Eaten On Christmas Eve

In the United States, generations of immigration have influenced just about every aspect of daily life, including holiday celebrations. According to The Immigrant Learning Center, German immigrants brought the Christmas tree tradition to the states. Per Today, Cuban migrants introduced Noche Buena, a Christmas Eve feast that features homemade roasted pork. Italian immigrants brought with them the Christmas tradition of the "Feast of the Seven Fishes,"  and Irish immigrants introduced the Christmas Eve delicacy which is oyster stew. 

Per Southern Living, an old adage warns that oysters can only be eaten safely in the colder months, or months with the letter "R" in them: October, November, and December, for example. So this seafood dish is traditionally prepared during the fall and winter. Oyster stew is easy to prepare, according to She Wears Many Hats; the recipe only calls for oysters, milk, butter, and black pepper. On a cold day, it is said to take the edge off the chill. But where did the tradition of eating this seafood stew on Christmas Eve originate?

The tradition is based on Irish Christmas customs

According to Forbes, Irish immigrants created the oyster stew tradition in the United States. When Irish people began immigrating to the United States they brought with them their own traditions and customs. As many of these migrants were Catholic (per UMD Newman), they fasted from meat on Fridays and during certain times before holidays, including Christmas Eve. In place of beef or chicken, they would eat fish. When the migrants came to America starting in the 1850s, they took advantage of the vast amounts of oysters available and created oyster stew. 

The Illinois Times reveals before oysters, the Irish would use a fish called "ling" to make this stew; however, this "Atlantic cod" was not something the Irish could find in the U.S. which led them to the oyster. The publication goes on to share oysters were relatively inexpensive and quickly became associated with the Christmas season. This rich and creamy stew is also said to have graced the tables in kitchens in Mexico where it is eaten on Christmas Eve, per the blog Fill Your Plate.