- Associated Press - Saturday, December 3, 2016

FAIRMONT, W.Va. (AP) - The Feast of the Seven Fishes - an annual celebration of Italian Christmas tradition - will return to Fairmont for its 11th year, featuring Italian cuisine, music and fun for the whole family.

“I think it speaks to the heritage of Fairmont,” volunteer Emily Swain said. “It really is a cultural festival. It’s a place for community members and something people look forward to.”

The Dec. 9-10 event is sponsored by Main Street Fairmont, an organization dedicated to helping the development of Fairmont and Marion County.

Feast of the Seven Fishes was first inspired by a graphic novel of the same name by Bob Tinnell, a Fairmont native, who depicted the Feast of the Seven Fishes as a family tradition in his household when he was growing up.

The Feast of the Seven Fishes is typically an Italian custom, which involves a seafood meal on Christmas Eve for the observance of “La Vigilia,” or the vigil of the Christ child.

After seeing the novel, Main Street Fairmont felt that the event should be turned into a festival.

“That’s kind of how it started,” said Sanda Scaffidi, who has been helping with the festival for the past 10 years. “It’s an event to celebrate food and family and community.”

It’s that community aspect that makes it so popular, Swain said.

“It’s very easy to let events come and go and interest comes and goes, but interest has always maintained and it’s grown to more than just Main Street,” Swain said. “It’s a voice and event that wants to be heard and has a place in the community.”

While the event began as an Italian tradition, anyone is invited to join the fun.

“We have a saying that at the Feast of Seven Fishes festival, everyone’s Italian,” Scaffidi said. “Everybody is welcome here.”

The event has grown tremendously since its beginnings, something that Scaffidi attributes to the hard-working volunteers from the area.

“It’s a homegrown event, so there are a lot of community members rolling up their sleeves to make the festival come alive every year,” she said. “It’s gotten bigger, but it still retains its small-town charm.”

Every year, feast officials attempt to do something new to help the festival grow. This year they increased their capacity for electricity, and have carried over the emphasis they put on social media, which began last year.

They are encouraging attendees to tag tweets or posts with #7Fishes16 and to post photos on their Facebook page.

The event has recently been named a Southeast Tourism Society Top 20 event for December, something that Scaffidi said was “a little surprising.”

“It’s exciting,” she said. There’s a group of volunteers from the city and county “who have worked to pull this together each year, and to have this recognition, even though it’s a small, two-day event, it’s really nice to know other people appreciate our community as well.”

The celebration normally attracts between 7,000 to 8,000 people, depending on the weather, with visitors coming in from as far as Chicago.

For many guests, one of the highlights of the event is the food.

“The food, of course, is definitely exciting,” Swain said. “I think the music is really fun, too. It’s a traditional mix of entertainment and people look for that.”

The Festival Cucina is held at 7:30 p.m. Dec. 9 at the First Presbyterian Church in conjunction with the festival. Tickets will cost $25, and includes eight traditional holiday Italian dishes.

“Festival Cucina is like sitting in your grandmother’s kitchen,” said Scaffidi, who also cites the food as a highlight throughout the festival. “It’s a great event.”

The celebration itself begins at 11 a.m. at Monroe Street. The homemade wine contest begins at 2:30 p.m., and there will be a Christmas parade at 5 p.m.

There is no cost to get into the Feast of Seven Fishes, though Main Street Fairmont will be accepting donations this year. The money will go toward the operating cost of the event, and will hopefully allow for expansions in the future.

Scaffidi hopes to see the festival continue to grow, hoping to be able to share the event with as many people as possible.

“What really warms my heart the most is that there’s this electric energy in the air and everyone is smiling and seems genuinely happy. That’s my favorite part,” Scaffidi said. “And the food, I can’t go without buying at least a dozen frittis.”

For more information on the Feast of the Seven Fishes, visit www.mainstreetfairmont.org.

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Information from: The Exponent Telegram, https://www.theet.com


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