Our Foodie Friday theme today is La Vigilia, the Christmas Eve tradition of the Feast of the Seven Fishes. Now what, you might ask, does a nice Jewish boy know about such things? Well, having spent a great deal of my youth around my best friend’s Italian mother and grandmother while they cooked, I know quite a bit. I know that they started to prepare this feast several days in advance, as they put salt cod into water to hydrate it (there was a running battle about using milk to do that). I know that they spent many hours over the subsequent days preparing all manner of seafood – fried, broiled, and baked. And I know that it all was mind-blowingly good.
There’s one thing I didn’t know, and still don’t, about the Feast: what does it represent? Everyone knows it came as a southern Italian tradition and there are lots of theories about the number 7. But apparently no one knows for sure and that’s the business point to end the week.
All too often in business, we do things because that’s the way they’ve always been done. When we ask why or what does it mean, there is much head-scratching and often there’s uncertainty but both are generally followed with a shrug of the shoulders and a supposition that someone higher up wanted it that way. I used to tell new employees that they possessed a rare commodity: fresh eyes with which to examine all of our business traditions. They were not supposed to take “because that’s how we’ve always done it” as a satisfactory answer if something didn’t make sense to them. Sometimes as we dug down into the “why” we figured out a better “how.”
I’m not sure it’s important that we understand the “why” of La Vigilia, but that’s an exception. In business, everything changes pretty rapidly and the traditional ways may no longer work. Questioning the reasons why we do certain things is a critical item on the path to success and we should encourage it.
And now, it’s off to go find some fresh fish. Buon Natale!