Christmas in Italy

By: Luisa

Introduction

Although Babbo Natale (Father Christmas) and giving presents on Christmas are becoming more common, the main day for gift giving is Epiphany, the 12th day of Christmas when the three Wise Men gave Baby Jesus their gifts. In Italy, presents are brought by La Befana, who arrives in the night to fill children's stockings.


Christmas decorations and trees are becoming more popular in Italy. Lights and decorations are often seen starting around December 8, the Feast Day of the Immaculate Conception, or even the end of November. The main focus of decorations continues to be the presepe, Nativity scene or creche. Almost every church has a presepe and they are often found outdoors in a piazza or public area, too.

What Italians eat for Christmas?

Traditionally, a meatless dinner is eaten on Christmas eve with the family, followed by a living nativity scene and midnight mass. In parts of southern Italy a seven fishes dinner is traditionally served on Christmas Eve. Traditional bonfires are often held on Christmas Eve in the main square of town, especially in mountain areas. Dinner on Christmas day is usually meat based.


Lasagne

Lasagne is similar to Cannelloni because the ingredients are the same but, while Cannelloni are composed of many stuffed tubes of soft pasta, Lasagne are created by layers of pastasfoglia and minced meat or vegetables, mixed with Mozzarella (another Italian very famous cheese) and flavored with sauce or with milk, cream and bechamel.

These are both essential first courses of Italian tradition on Christmas day but, even though they could be considered “complete dishes” because of the presence of pasta, meat and cheese, Italians don’t stop eating after this first course, but continue their Christmas lunch with Roast-beef and green vegetables such as spinach or chicory, both flavored by a delicious sauce made with minced carrots, oil, onion and celery, everything reduced to a sort of cream.

A Christmas lunch is not a real Christmas lunch if the famous “Olive all’ascolana” are not presented on the table, together with crema fritta (a deep fried custard cut in small squares and breaded) and fried meat.

Olive all'ascolana

Is a typical specialty of our Marche region, in particular of our district Ascoli Piceno and it is made using a certain quality of olives which grow in our territory. These olives are quite big and they are stoned, opened and stuffed with minced mixed meat (chicken, pork and beef) flavored with parmesan, nutmeg, minced parsley, eggs and salt). They are then dipped in beaten egg, into flour and then breaded and finally deep-fried. Most people, especially the younger generation who don’t know how to prepare these olives or have no time to hand make them, buy them from a shop (there are some shops that specialize in the preparation of Olive all’ascolana), but there are still some women who spend an entire afternoon preparing them by hand with care and devotion.


Roast lamb

Is another typical Christmas dish for Italians, and it is served almost at the end of Christmas lunch, accompanied by mixed salad or by roasted potatoes. Sometimes, lamb is substituted with roasted chicken.