celebrating christmas

Italian Christmas Dinner: Cenone di Natale

How is Christmas celebrated in Italy? In Italy the tradition is twofold: for Christmas Eve dinner it is customary to eat fish or lean dishes. Christmas lunch, on the other hand, makes way for all kinds of culinary abundance.

Many families celebrate both events, and until a few decades ago, the traditions were clear: in central and southern Italy the Christmas Eve dinner was celebrated, while in the north Christmas lunch was the standard. However, today, the boundaries have blurred.

Many other different cultural traditions and experiences are associated with Christmas Eve around the world, the gathering of family and friends, the singing of Christmas carols, and the lighting of Christmas lights, trees, and other decorations. Then wrapping and opening of gifts, and general preparation for Christmas Day.

What do you eat on Christmas Eve? If you choose to celebrate with Christmas Eve dinner, keep in mind that it is traditional to prepare a “lean” dinner, i.e., without meat. The Christmas Eve dinner based on fish is a widely used option from north to south Italy.

But which fish for Christmas Eve should you choose? In many regions, it is traditional to eat eel or “capitone”, but all types of crustaceans are also a great option.

In northern Italy, foods that are not exactly local, but very tasty, are widespread, such as caviar, oysters, or smoked salmon.

The appetizers are normally based on fish, for example, Carpaccio of swordfish, tuna or salmon (swordfish, tuna, or fresh salmon carpaccio), and octopus salad.

As a first course, in regions such as Lombardy, Piedmont, and Emilia-Romagna, agnolotti stuffed with ricotta and spinach, potatoes, or pumpkin are served. These are usually served with butter, sage, and Parmigiano-Reggiano.

Tortelli Natale
Tortelli Natale

In the Friuli region cialson is prepared, which are ravioli filled with ricotta, raisins and/or dried figs, spinach, chocolate, and candied citron.

In Veneto, there are bigoi in salsa, which are a sort of large buckwheat spaghetti, seasoned with a delicious cream of anchovies and onions. Eel or capitone is a very traditional dish, and is cooked in many different ways throughout Italy.

In some parts of Sicily, swordfish rolls are prepared with breadcrumbs, orange juice, pine nuts, raisins, tarragon, ginger, garlic, parsley, and basil.

This Christmas Eve dinner precedes Midnight Mass. In cooler and colder regions, Mass is often followed by homemade hot chocolate with biscuits and a slice of panettone.

Traditionally, the presents are opened after dinner, upon returning from midnight mass. This solution is perfect if you celebrate with adults. Can’t say the same for the children, who are going to await midnight impatiently.

You can always choose to celebrate at lunch: Santa Claus arrives at night and when they wake up the little ones can dedicate themselves to the longed-for opening of the gifts!

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