Christmas For Members

How Christmas dinner changes depending where you are in Italy

Clare Speak
Clare Speak - [email protected]
How Christmas dinner changes depending where you are in Italy
Italian antipasti. Photo: DepositPhotos

What do Italians eat for Christmas dinner? As with so many things in this country, there are big regional differences.


You might know that each of Italy's 20 regions has its own culinary specialties and traditions. And at Christmas, this is no different.

While many people in countries such as the US and UK will traditionally have turkey (or possibly some other kind of roasted meat) with all the trimmings, things are a lot more varied in Italy, and the Christmas meal you'll eat depends on the region (as well as province, town, and family) you're visiting over the holidays.

With the help of The Local's readers in Italy, we took a closer look at typical menus for Christmas dinner across the country.

Cena di Natale

On Christmas eve, or La Vigilia di Natale, many people in overwhelmingly Catholic Italy will avoid meat, feasting on fish and seafood instead.

The menu on the evening of December 24th will often feature baccalà (salted cod), oysters, clams and king prawns. White wine, particularly bollicine (sparkling wines) are a popular accompaniment.

Eels are often in pride of place on Christmas eve tables, especially in southern Italy and along the Adriatic coast. They must be as fresh as possible, which is why you'll often see tanks of live eels wriggling in fishmongers' windows or on market stalls at this time of year.

You might have heard this meal referred to as the "feast of the seven fishes". This is thought to be an American-Italian adaptation of old traditions. In Italy you're unlikely to hear it called that - and seven plates won't be enough. Traditions vary, but many families insist that thirteen dishes is traditional, while others are satisfied with nine.

Either way, there's going to be plenty of food, which is why this meal is often referred to as cenone (literally, 'big dinner'). But, while overeating may be tempting at this point, make sure you save space for lunch the next day.


Pranzo di Natale

Italians don't mess around when it comes to Christmas lunch. It's huge, and you can expect to be sat at the table for three or four hours (but possibly even longer, especially in the south).

This is one occasion when you'll have all the courses, from antipasti to dolce, and of course a caffe and ammazzacaffe'.

But what can you expect to see on the table?

While some countries associate lamb with Easter, here in Italy it's a popular Christmas dish, usually roasted and served as a secondo (second course) with potatoes.

But it doesn't have to be lamb, and that certainly won't be all you have.

Readers around the country told our Facebook group they usually have everything from pizza fritta (fried pizza) to polpettone (meatballs) with their Italian friends and family members on Christmas day.


Here in Puglia, the Christmas meal usually begins with a dozen antipasti, then lasagne, followed by roast lamb and potatoes, fruit, and finally a big wedge of panettone.

READ ALSO: Panettone: Six things you didn't know about Italy's most famous Christmas cake

However, that's in an inland area - half an hour away on the coast, you're more likely to be enjoying a seafood feast (again).

In Piedmont, Claudia Pessarelli says agnolotti con il sugo di stufato (a typical kind of pasta filled with meat) are a must-have. “Everything else can change each year, but those need to be on the table “

In Veneto, Chiara Fava tells us the meal on Christmas Day includes “baccalà (salted cod), faraona (guinea fowl), polenta, radicchio (chicory), bigoli in salsa (a type of whole-wheat pasta with onion and salt-cured fish), salmon; and to drink, Prosecco and red wine.”

But one thing's for sure: wherever you're spending Christmas in Italy, you're going to eat very well indeed.


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