What is the traditional Italian Christmas dinner?

As you can imagine, food plays an important part of the celebrations for Christmas in Italy! Christmas is a time for abbondanza, literally, “abundance.” Italians sit down for long, long, meals of several courses.

What you eat depends not only on the region you are from, but also on your families traditions.

Christmas Eve - La Vigilia di Natale - dinner is traditionally a lighter meal. The family gathers together in the evening for a meal with fish or seafood being served, followed by sweet treats and of course panettone.

A traditional entree are deep-fried vegetables and, especially in the South, fish vegetables. The first course could be a plate of spaghetti with clams, or maybe a lasagna.

Because it is the birthdate of Jesus, traditionally fish is eaten, very fresh, such as trout or salmon, fried fish, In the north of Italy, you’ll find baccalà (salt cod)or in Naples eel is eaten.

If meat is part of the menu it might be a loin of meat, stuffed with eggs and spices, or a traditional turkey.

Pasta of course features, especially ravioli, tortellini and lasagne.

Veal or lamb are usually the meat dishes, deserts such as babà, a dessert with a soft dough soaked in liquor, or tiramisu and panforte are the most traditional.

The meal is finished off with chocolate bonbons or truffles, panettone and of course coffee before Midnight Mass!

On Christmas Day,

The big meal is held at lunchtime and can go on for hours! The menu will feature antipasti, cheese boards and meat, first course, second and the dessert!

Natale (Christmas)

The antipasti is nearly always cured meats and cheeses, with Christmas salamis that will be special to each region. There will be different variations of frittata and cold meats such as cold roasted veal.

There will then be several courses of Christmas pasta, stuffed, baked, with ragù, meatballs, hard-boiled eggs, rich bechamel sauce - you name it and it will probably appear.

Then comes the meat!. A roast is likely, such as roast baby lamb in Rome, or a baroque faraona ripena (guinea fowl stuffed with ground meat and spices). And maybe after that there might be grilled sausages and chops.

And, to finish, desserts like panettone from Milan and pandoro from Verona.

Il Giorno di Santo Stefano (Boxing Day)

Not satisfied with all the eating on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, the Italians also have a huge family lunch on Saint Stephen’s Day.

This is when the leftovers are made into something even more delicious!

Leftover pasta will get mixed with eggs and cheese to make a frittata di pasta. Boiled meat will be shredded and stewed with tomatoes and vegetables. The leftover cured meats and desserts from the previous day will be put out to round the meal.

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