Authentic Italian Christmas dinner - our traditions and dishes (2023)

goodbye! It's Marica, fromregional marketfrom Italy.

You are insideItaly for the holidaysand you are invited to a Christmas dinner?

Or are you planning to cook your own Italian Christmas dinner?

Maybe you're just curious about our Christmas traditions.

Whatever the reason, let's take a look at one of the most important meals of the year in Italy - Christmas dinner!

Vacationing in Italy? Or just curious how we celebrate here? Check out our Christmas posts:
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Authentic Italian Christmas dinner - our traditions and dishes (1)

Christmas Day may be the day everyone is waiting for, but Christmas Eve in Italy is an integral part of our Christmas holidays.


Italians usually spend the 24th of Decemberº:

  • with the family
  • big christmas dinner together
  • unwrap some gifts
  • Waiting until midnight to celebrate the arrival of Christmas Day

Our Christmas celebrations are rooted in Catholicism, and the religious aspect of the holiday used to be the most important one.

For example, most Italians used to:

  • Attend Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ
  • Eat a 13-course Christmas Eve dinner (depicting the 12 apostles seated around Jesus in the Upper Room)
  • not clearing the Christmas Eve table before midnight, the time of Jesus Christ's birth

While Italians still identify as Catholic, religious traditions are fading among younger generations.

In my family, for example, my grandmothers are still very religious – they go to church on Sundays and midnight mass on Christmas Eve. But for the rest of our family,Eve(Christmas Eve) is not a big event as most of us spend the night at home with our immediate family members. We usually celebrate Christmas Day and Santo Stefano Day (December 26).º) together as a large extended family group.

But we are! In general, Christmas Eve and Christmas dinner are important parts of the Italian holiday calendar.

In this post I explain:

  • Christmas dinner traditions in Italy
  • The typical Italian Christmas menu
  • What to Do When Invited to an Italian Christmas Dinner
  • Tips for Organizing Your Own Italian Christmas Dinner

Read more aboutTraditional Italian Christmas dinner!

Christmas dinner traditions in Italy

Authentic Italian Christmas dinner - our traditions and dishes (2)

Christmas Eve orOChristmas night, when families get together to spend time, have fun and eat delicious food.

Evevaries from country to country: in southern Italy, the religious significance of Christmas Eve is more considered than in northern and central Italy. People are more likely to attend midnight mass, eat exclusively seafood, and eat a 13-course meal.


Good to know:The traditional Italian Christmas dinner is based on fish and seafood, as the 24thDecemberANDskinny day(skinny day or meatless day). On this day, Italians fast or eat simple peasant food as a sign of respect and devotion.

The emphasis onChristmas dinner(Big Christmas Eve Dinner) favors freshness and variety, referring both to the type of seafood and the method of preparation.

Dinner usually starts around 6:00 pm. After the welcome drinks andAperitif, real food starts and lasts for hours!

After dessert is served, some families unwrap gifts while others play games (board games or classic card games liketrump cardorhole).

As on Christmas Day, food is the most important part of the celebration.guard– Sharing food with loved ones (your immediate family or a larger family group) is the very essence of the Christmas holiday!

Typical Italian Christmas menu

Authentic Italian Christmas dinner - our traditions and dishes (3)

Depending on where you are in Italy, there are many typical dishes for Christmas dinner.

However, a traditional Italian Christmas Eve menu includes a mix of the following dishes:

Christmas Eve Italian Aperitif (Aperitif)

OChristmas dinnercan't start beforeAperitifwill be served! The aperitif revolves around signature drinks, which can be served along with snacks.

The typical drink during theAperitifit's a glassProsecco. But Italians also love cocktails, and on Christmas Eve, the host can serve:

  • splash of aperol, the classic Veneto cocktail made fromProsecco, Aperol, mineral water and a slice of orange.
  • belini, withsparkling winebrut (the Italian version of champagne) orProseccoand fresh peach or peach juice.
  • Vin Brulè, mulled wine with spices and sugar.
  • Punch, a warm rum-based cocktail with orange punch, orange zest, cinnamon and aniseed.

Read more aboutappetizer in Italian!

(Video) Italian Christmas Eve Dinner | Foods and Traditions

Italian Appetizers on Christmas Eve (Antipasti)

  • smoked salmoncrostini(Slices of smoked salmon served on bread with butter or cream cheese)
  • gratin scallops
  • Powder Salt
  • marinated anchovies
  • Russian salad(Russian salad prepared with boiled potatoes, carrots, peas and mayonnaise)
  • Fried snacks such as vegetables,Mozzarella(mozzarella on cart) and creams (Creme)

Italian first courses on Christmas Eve (First)

The first course is usually a pasta dish. But in some regions, the first dish can be a rice dish or soup:

  • spaghetti with mussels(with mussels)
  • Spaghettiorpaccheri to the rock(with mixed seafood)
  • Spaghetti with squid ink(spaghetti with squid)
  • Marinara-Risotto(Seafood risotto)
  • christmas soup(a traditional Umbrian Christmas soup with chickpeas and chestnuts)

Italian Christmas Eve Main Dishes (seconds)

Second courses on Christmas Eve are traditionally fish or seafood dishes:

  • Fried cod(fried cod)
  • Braised cod in tomato sauce
  • fried swordfish
  • Roasted Dorado(fried snapper with potatoes,taggiascheolives and cherry tomatoes)
  • Baixo All'Acqua Pazza(Sea bass with cherry tomato, parsley and garlic)
  • fried salmon
  • Steamed Capitone(stewed eel)
  • Pork sausage with lentils(pork sausage with lentils)

Christmas Eve Italian Vegetable Dishes (Verde)

  • EUbooster lettuce(a Neapolitan dish consists of cauliflower, cucumber, black olives, anchovies, capers and peppersPickles, with a sauce of extra virgin olive oil and red wine vinegar)
  • Baked Potatoes or Broccoli
  • Russian salad(the rest of the appetizer!)
  • Sautéed Mushrooms or Spinach
  • Roasted pumpkin with herbs
  • Artichokes (fried or baked)

Italian Christmas desserts (candy)

Desserts are another part of the Christmas dinner that varies from region to region. However, there are some desserts that you can find on every table, from the north to the south of Italy:

  • Pandoro
  • Panettone
  • Nougat
  • Tangerines, clementines and walnuts. Although these fruits are not pure sweets, they are a must at the end of the Italian Christmas dinner!

Participation in an Italian Christmas dinner

If you are invited to a Christmas dinner in Italy, you must bring a gift for the host. A bottle of wine is always a great idea and a housewarming gift.

Desserts are also a good alternative, but considering you've been invited to aChristmas dinner, the host probably prepared a lot of desserts! You can just ask if another dessert is needed or not.

If you don't want to show up empty-handed, a plant or flowers are popular gifts.

Christmas Eve dinner usually starts around 6pm. So if you are not invited at a certain time, you can attend at that timeAperitif!

Also, make sure you arrive on an empty stomach as you will be eating a lot. They know how Italian chefs treat food - if you don't eat all the dishes, the host might think you're not enjoying it!

You might want to read about it.Christmas in Italy for kids!

(Video) 12 ITALIAN CHRISTMAS TRADITIONS - Subtitles in ITA and ENG - Italians in the UK

Hosting an Italian Christmas Dinner

Authentic Italian Christmas dinner - our traditions and dishes (4)

At first glance, organizing a typical Italian Christmas dinner may seem like a lot of work, but I assure you, it's easier than it looks! The Key to Successful HostingChristmas dinneris organized (just like you do withAmerican Thanksgiving Daymeals!).

First – gather the ingredients. If you are in Italy, you can ask for the necessary ingredients.supermarketsor local stores. I recommend going to the local trade about ten days beforeguardto place your order. If you are abroad, you can order all the specialties from Italian delis or markets.

Then prepare as many dishes as possible on the eve or morning of December 24th. Chop the vegetables, gut the fish and prepare as much as you can to take good care of guests upon arrivalTo have lunch.

Buy desserts at a bakery or make them yourself, but be aware that Italian Christmas desserts are particularly difficult to prepare.PandoroEPanettone, so I strongly recommend you buy them - we do!

Just before guests arrive, prepare thisAperitifThis is how cocktails and snacks welcome your guests upon arrival.

OChristmas dinnerit's a relaxed gathering of friends, family and food. So don't stress yourself out too much and forget formalities! Invite your guests to sit at the dinner table and before serving the foodAntipasti, toast with your guests and wish everyone'Happy night'(the traditional saying on Christmas Eve).

With the desserts ready, the next part of the party begins! Put on some music, unwrap the presents (if you choose to do it on Christmas Eve) and play board or card games with your guests well into the night!

I hope you like yoursChristmas night!

Common questions

Can you eat at a restaurant on Christmas Eve in Italy?
Restaurants are open on Christmas Eve and usually have a special Christmas Eve menu (you cannot order à la carte). Italians tend to have their Christmas Eve meals at home, while many go out to a restaurant on Christmas Day.

(Video) Nonna's Natale - An Italian Christmas with Nonna Rosa

Is the Feast of the Seven Fishes an Italian Christmas tradition?
The Feast of the Seven Fishes is not an Italian Christmas tradition. It's actually an Italian-American tradition. The Feast of the Seven Fishes is a (you guessed it) seven-course fish-based meal served on Christmas Eve that helped those who left Italy feel a connection to their homeland. There could be seven different fish dishes, or the fish could be prepared in seven different ways.


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