Christmas Eve in Italy is a day full of food and traditions. In this post, I outlined a typical Italian Christmas Eve: what happens hour by hour.
First of all, remember that the Christmas Eve dinner in Italy is meatless: we can only eat fish. But we can certainly eat pasta, vegetables, cheese, and sweets. We won’t perish.
After the sumptuous banquet, there’s a lot of playing, kissing, and gifts.
5 PM: LAST ERRANDS
You are in line at the “pasticceria” (pastry shop) – on Christmas Eve! – to buy the Panettone your mom asked you for at the last minute.
The line is endless.
6 PM: FRYING AND THE APERITIVO
When you enter your parent’s house, the first thing that welcomes you is the smell of the Christmas Eve traditional battered-fried vegetables, fish, and seafood. Mamme & nonne are frying everything that happens at hand (the southern you go, the more fried food you find). You may have a small bite, but then you are kindly invited to leave the kitchen and go make some drinks for the cooks and the rest of the family’s aperitivo.
You omit that you already had one with your friends a few hours ago.
BETWEEN 8 PM and 9 PM: DINNER
Everyone sits at the table: the Pantagruelian Christmas Eve traditional dinner is about to begin. Only fish, no meat, as mentioned earlier.
Depending on where you are – North, South, or Center Italy – or what your family traditions are, you may have one or all (and many others, impossible to collect in a single post) of these dishes:
- Antipasto: smoked salmon, marinated anchovies, octopus salad, and the fried goodies…
- First course: pumpkin ravioli, fish stuffed ravioli, Pasta Alle Vongole, fish risotto, tuna or scampi pasta, salmon lasagna.
- Second course: oven-baked fish (Spigola, turbot, shrimps, or scampi) or something easily stewed (want to try? Make the Sicilian swordfish Alla Ghiotta).
- Side dishes: Puntarelle salad, Insalata Di Rinforzo (cauliflower, pickles, olives, and many other ingredients), savory orange salad, Pommes Duchesse, green beans, vegetable casseroles.
- Dessert: Pandoro, Panettone, Castagnaccio (nutty & chewy Tuscan cake), Struffoli…
- Fruit and cheeses: local cheeses, tangerines, oranges, walnuts, peanuts, hazelnuts, dates, dried figs…
- White or Rosé Wine.
You unbutton your pants.
A CHRISTMAS GIFT FOR ITALIAN COOKS
11.30: PRAY OR GAMBLE
It’s time to plan for the next few hours. A part of the family will attend the midnight mass (much more of a social event than a religious obligation). Young people will go out to meet their friends in the piazza. The rest of the family will stay home for the Tombola (bingo), the Mercante in Fiera, or other card games.
You can hardly dissimulate a grin when you think of your vindicative plans and how, this year, you’ll make a killing of your cousins.
11.55: GET READY
A daddy, an uncle, or a big brother will disappear to dress up as Santa.
You grab the camera, can’t miss this opportunity.
00.00: ITALIAN HUBBUB
Time to, in random order:
- place the newborn baby Jesus in the Presepe (the Crib);
- uncork Spumante;
- wish everyone a Merry Christmas with sonorous double kisses;
- eventually, call loved ones that are far away;
- exchange Christmas gifts or let in Santa to deliver the gifts to frantic children.
You have a hard time addressing your tipsy self.
00.30: MORE PLAYING
It’s time for the mentioned above card games (usually people arrive with big bags of small cut coins, put aside in the last few months for today’s dares), some chatting, a few more chocolates, and the first yawnings…
Your coin bag was the hugest; now it’s empty. You get a lown from your younger cousin.
And that, dear friends, is what Christmas Eve looks like in the majority of Italian households. It is a sweet mess of family ties, yells, abounding food, and gifts. Time stops, family wars are suspended, work is completely forgotten, and all you can think of is food, drinks, and pleasure.
Enjoy your Christmas Eve in Italy!