Christmas Eve is the day preceding the most important festivity of Christianity, and it has a huge symbolic meaning because the birth of Jesus Christ is celebrated. In time, it became an occasion in which exchanging gifts, when the clock strikes midnight, and celebrating the joy of dining together. In fact, the evening of December 24th people celebrate with a fish based dinner, but the menu varies from region to region, following the local traditions.
The different traditions
From north to south, the habits of celebrating Christmas are different. In the north, from Florence upwards, we celebrate on Christmas day at lunch, while in the rest of Italy the celebrations start on the 24th.
In the south, we sit at the table in the late afternoon and we waiting for the birth of Jesus while tasting some fried food, fish and dried fruit based dishes. All of this is corroborated by good wine, sparkling wine and the so-called digestive liqueurs, while we play cards and raffles. The day after, we sit again at the table for lunch, which has a minimum of 6 courses, surely not light ones! On the 26th, Boxing Day, the menu is lighter, because we prepare the beef broth in which to cook the tortellini or other kinds of pasta, depending on the region. For dessert, pandoro and panettone are typical, they’re eaten all over the country, while in Naples they eat also struffoli and roccocò (crispy sweet and flavourful doughnuts). Pan dolce is typical of Genoa.
The typical dishes of Northern Italy
In the north, on the evening of the 24th it is common to go to the Christmas mass and exchange the holiday wishes while drinking some vin brulè (mulled wine) brulé.
When they sit at the table, they have a fish based dinner, but there are some exceptions. For example, in Val D’Aosta they prepare the carbonade, which is meat marinated in red wine and cooked in a pan. In PIedmont they eat mainly ravioli and agnolotti, while in Lombardia they have shrimp tagliolini and fish ravioli with lobster or salmon, sided with mayonnaise. In Veneto they prepare the cornioi, which is snails in white wine, garlic, butter, oil and parsley. In Emilia Romagna, pumpkin tortelli or sardine spaghetti.
The typical dishes of Central Italy
In Tuscany, on the night of the 24th, they cook the bardiccio, which is a fennel pork sausage, and the caciucco can’t go amiss (a fish based dish). In Marche and Umbria, they cook lots of fish in many different ways, but, above all, fried! Abruzzo is the kingdom of fried baccalà (salt-cured cod) and fried eel. In Lazio, the culinary tradition is based on fried vegetables.
The rich typical dishes of Southern Italy
Going south, we find the richest dishes and the highest number of courses. For example, in Basilicata, the meal is made of 13 courses, all rigorously fish based. In Apulia, the main dishes are fried fish and pettole, a kind of fried pasta topped with tomato sauce or anchovies. In Naples, the king dish is the fried eel, a mixture of fried calamari and prawns and a salad with bell peppers, anchovies, capers and cauliflower. IN the deep South, in Calabria, the Christmas dinner is based on vegetable soup and stockfish with artichokes. In west Sicily, sardines and rice timbale, while in east Sicily the main dish is scacce, focaccias filled with vegetables, served hot, sided with cheese and meat. Finally, for the Christmas Eve in Sardinia, they prepare pecorino and chard ravioli and fregola, which is a kind of cous cous topped with arselle (a kind of clam).