FAIRMONT, W.Va. (WBOY) – Italian American or not, thousands of West Virginians flock to Marion County every December for the Feast of the Seven Fishes Festival. But getting to this large of a scale all started with a family tradition back in the 90s.
“Back in the 90s, I sort of had become aware of how much I loved when we did the Feast of the Seven Fishes on Christmas Eve, but we didn’t even call it that. I thought everyone just ate fish on Christmas Eve or I thought maybe it was just us,” Bob Tinnell, co-creator of the Feast of the Seven Fishes Festival, said. “So, I made a little kind of glorified home movie documentary of my grandfather and my great uncles cooking the meal.”
That home movie eventually inspired Tinnell and his wife Shannon to release their comic strip and Italian cookbook, “The Feast of the Seven Fishes.” After the book came the movie, then the festival in downtown Fairmont, then the mural.
Now on its 16th year, the festival brings in thousands for the Italian Christmas Eve tradition of feasting on fish dishes.
“Nobody thought that was going to work, and it became this really successful thing,” Tinnell said.
But it’s not just another block party. The biggest echo through all Tinnell’s successful mediums is the quality time people and families should enjoy with each other around the holidays – which is the core of what the festival in Marion County is all about.
“It offers us an opportunity to build genuine memories and to spend time together doing something other than buying things, and people get so stressed out for the holidays and what we really should be doing is just hanging out and having fun together and eating,” he said.
To Tinnell, most importantly, the festival is about honoring the immigrants who came from Italy that worked to get families, just like his, where they are today.
“My grandfather dug coal, and I’m directing Hollywood movies. That’s a big leap and should be honored,” he said.
Through all of the success, even though he’s the creator, Tinnell said it’s not about him.
“I think it has a lot more to do with how much people love the tradition,” Tinnell said. “I think we played a part in reaffirming the tradition and making sure that it sticks around, and I’m really pleased about that because it’s a wonderful, wonderful thing to do.”