Christmas Eve mussels

Warning in advance: this posting will turn to discussions of genitals, mostly female, with symbolic and schematic representations, so it won’t be comfortable for everyone.

But it starts with a culinary celebration of the holiday season, Owen Campbell’s Facebook posting of course 3 of Christmas Eve dinner at his house:

(#1) Seafood moments: mussels here — and then oysters (courses 2 and 4), plus mushrooms stuffed with crab

Why all this seafood? Because it was Christmas Eve, and though Owen and his husband are in wintry Winnipeg and not sunny Sicily (where the seafood is a component of La Vigilia), bivalves and crustaceans are still appropriate for anticipating the arrival of the Child.

So, first: about the Seven Fishes (with fish ‘seafood’). Then specifically about mussels, as food. And then more about mussels, as symbols of the female genitalia (where we will encounter an instructive anatomical diagram cheerily entitled “Meet the Vulva” — note warning above).

Seafood for Christmas Eve. From Wikipedia:

The Feast of the Seven Fishes (Italian: Festa dei sette pesci) is an Italian-American celebration of Christmas Eve with dishes of fish and other seafoods

… The tradition comes from Southern Italy, where it is known as The Vigil (La Vigilia). This celebration commemorates the wait, the Vigilia di Natale, for the midnight birth of the baby Jesus. It was introduced in the United States by Southern Italian immigrants in New York City’s Little Italy in the late 1800s.

The long tradition of eating seafood on Christmas Eve dates from the Roman Catholic tradition of abstaining from eating meat on the eve of a feast day [and of eating seafood instead].

(On this blog, see my 12/26/13 posting “Seven Fishes”.)

Among the seafoods for Christmas eve are the bivalve (having a compressed body enclosed within a hinged shell) molluscs / mollusks: clams, oysters, mussels, cockles, scallops. On to the wonderfully flavorful mussels in particular.

Mussels. From my 11/1/15 posting “mussels”:

Getting mussels. I have gathered mussels (Mytilus edulis [the marine blue mussel]) in the wild, back in the early 60s, while visiting friends in Rockport MA (on the tip of Cape Ann). At the time, mussels were moving (in the U.S.) from food that only impoverished Italian immigrants would gather and eat to an increasingly trendy and fashionable food.

Then my family moved from Cambridge MA to Urbana IL, which was at the time a desert for interesting foodstuffs, and we had to find sources that would ferry such items from Chicago, or ship them, refrigerated, by air, or (for less perishable items) ship them by mail. We found a wonderful source in NYC that would mail all sorts of stuff to foodies stranded in the provinces — the place is now long gone, since many places in the provinces have become a lot less provincial. In any case, this firm would ship us cans of Danish mussels in brine, so we didn’t go mussel-less. We continued taking advantage of the company for some years after we moved to Columbus OH, which was less of a desert for interesting food than Urbana, but scarcely up to what we had gotten accustomed to from living close to NYC, Philadelphia, and Boston (and the Atlantic Ocean).

These days you can still get those Danish mussels in brine, but also canned marinated mussels from Spain, canned smoked mussels, and canned pickled mussels (mussels en escabeche)

… Or you can get yourself some fresh mussels, de-beard them and scrub them, then steam or boil them, and serve them with a white wine sauce:


Or with a garlic and parsley sauce, lemon butter, a tomato sauce (plain or spicy), or a cream sauce.

Symbolic mussels. From my 3/5/17 posting “Body works, Part II: Mytilid Matters”:


A photo [of a mussel, up close] on Facebook from John Dorrance, with the comment “These things are obscene” …

Well, they’re striking vaginal symbols (vulvar symbols would be more accurate anatomically, but just think of this commonplace use of vagina as metonymic).

Before I go on with this, I should point out that I’m a long-standing mytilophile, a lover of mytilids (mussels, in the family Mytilidae), or in street talk, a mussel fag (forgive the play on muscle fag, which I am not)  — see my 11/1/15 posting on mussels, with some foody photos — but many people find the creatures uncomfortably, um, life-like, and that includes some gay men like JD (I note that gay men are often charged with hostility towards women, and sometimes that’s a fair cop, but JD’s not in that crew); some straight women; and, yes, some lesbians (one of whom confessed as much in a comment on JD’s posting).

The problem with symbolic genitals that are edible is that the more realistic they look, the more uncomfortable a diner is likely to find them. I am extraordinary well-disposed towards penises, especially up close and personal, but truly realistic edible penis-simulacra would give me pause: eat dick is, after all, figurative.

(Though I should note that actual penises are sometimes eaten as food; see the section on this practice in my 10/25/15 posting “Sunday penis notes: #3 phallic food”. I haven’t seen reports of actual vulvas as food, but I suppose that anything’s possible.)

Back to the sexually symbolic value of mussels. They actually offer the whole female-genital symbolic package: both vaginality (in the narrow sense) and vulvarity.

Among the things serving as vaginal symbols: concavities; holes; openings (like doors and mouths); tubular, cup, and bell shapes; containers. Like phallic symbolism, vaginal symbolism is an enormously rich field. In the case of mussels, the shells are both concave and containers.

Plus, they have (roughly) one of the shapes — a lenticular, or lens shape — of vulvar symbols. (Lips, and more abstractly labial shapes, are also vulvar symbols.) This shape:

(#4) lens-shaped, or lenticular, so-called etymologically because it’s the shape of a lentil seed (Latin lēns, lentis ‘lentil’); optical lenses now come in a variety of shapes, of which this is one, the biconvex lens

More significantly, the body of a mussel is itself lenticular, as you can see in #3.

Now compare the mussel as sexual symbol to this abstract sexual symbol, the female symbol from an advertisement for May as National Masturbation Month (from my 5/13/17 posting “Months and days”):

(#5) On the left, in red, a symbolic representation of the vulva as a whole (disregard the fountain of genital juices), with a ring of the labia majora surrounding a lenticular outline for the labia minora (with the glans of the clitoris at its top) and another lenticular outline for the vaginal opening

Compare this to the instructional schematic of the vulva on the Meridia Medical site (offering women unthreatening gynecological advice, in this case about the care and health of their vaginas):


All is not mussels, of course. Many other natural objects and artifacts are vaginally or vulvarly symbolic — some of the artifacts by design, in fact.

Case in point, from an Independent (UK) story “Fendi’s £750 ‘vulva scarf’ goes viral after shoppers compare it to a vagina” by Olivia Petter on 10/16/18, about this  scarf:

(#7) Hard to believe the designers didn’t appreciate what they were doing

Bonus: another mussel for Christmas Eve. This one is a simulacrum in silver of a mussel shell, which I used to wear as a necklace pendant on a thin silver chain:


Very handsome, also very far from butch pendants meant for men to wear on sturdy masculine chains; but I was unconcerned that the mussel shell often served as a vaginal symbol

Silver shells, silver shells
… Soon it will be Christmas Day

— after “Silver Bells”, by Jay Livingston & Ray Evans (1950)

Much prettier than the actual mussels in #1 – #3, but also a lot less flavorful.

2 Responses to “Christmas Eve mussels”

  1. Ellen Kaisse Says:

    As far as edible female genitalia go, I am reminded of the funny, supposedly real story on ‘Damn you, autocorrect’, where someone at work texted someone at home ‘what’s for dinner?’ The response was intended to be ‘chicken fajitas,’ but it autocorrected to ‘chicken vaginas.’ There was an inexplicable lack of enthusiasm on the part of the at-work texter in response.

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