Italian

How to Celebrate Christmas Eve, the Italian Way

by:
December 22, 2015

In Italy, Christmas Eve dinner is arguably as important as the meal on Christmas Day (if not more in some households). In some families, the 24th of December is the most celebrated part of the Christmas holidays, and after dinner, children get to open presents and everyone stays to attend midnight mass.

Photo by Emiko Davies

By tradition, no meat is consumed on the eve of important Roman Catholic holidays like Easter and Christmas, which means dinner is usually celebrated with a sumptuous four-course seafood meal (though it wasn't always that way, my Tuscan in-laws remember Christmas Eve dinner as a simple, down to earth meal of pasta e ceci and anchovies).

Here's a menu for celebrating Christmas Eve, the Italian way:

BaccalĂ  mantecato, a favorite Venetian antipasto of creamed salted cod on baguette crostini, is the perfect party starter and goes wonderfully with a glass of prosecco.

Photo by Emiko Davies

This seafood spaghetti baked in paper parcels is not only easy to prepare in advance, but also looks so pretty on the table.

Photo by Emiko Davies

For mains, bake your favorite white fish fillets with butter and sherry, like in this Genius recipe.

Photo by James Ransom

Fennel and blood orange salad should be your go-to winter salad for just about any occasion, but it's especially great with fish.

Photo by Emiko Davies

And for dessert, lemon granita refreshes the palate and makes an elegant dessert (and if you wanted to get in the festive mood, you could even turn it into a sgroppino cocktail).

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It's not all about going over the top; after all, the next day there's round two, with the Christmas Day meal to enjoy too!

Photo by Emiko Davies
Photo by Emiko Davies

What do you serve on Christmas Eve? Share with us in the comments!

8 Comments

Karen K. December 21, 2016
Neither my husband nor I have an Italian bone in our bodies (alas), but when he heard about the Feast of the Seven Fishes from an Italian-American friend of ours (her relatives are from Alberobello, near Bari), he was jealous beyond words. So for his most recent birthday, I made a modified seven fishes dinner for him, and he *loved* it. He's already suggesting far more labor-intensive fishy treats for this year's dinner (so I'm hoist by my own petard ... again).
 
Alexis M. December 30, 2015
7 fishes! My father is Italian, my mother British. Which meant Christmas eve was 7 fishes, Christmas day was roast and yorkshire pudding and figgy pudding made a month in advance served on fire with hard sauce. I had to spend Christmas at the in-laws, away from my family, and it broke my heart. Christmas eve isn't christmas eve without fried smelts
 
Alexa December 23, 2015
Raw oysters, shrimp and clam chowder. Also some warm bread.
 
Trish D. December 22, 2015
Here in Texas, we eat tamales on Christmas Eve.
 
cv December 22, 2015
For the Mexican community here in California, Christmas Eve is huge. Christmas Day? Not so much. As yes, tamales are very popular around these parts.<br /><br />It's the same thing in the spring. Good Friday is a really big deal in the local Mexican community. Easter Sunday? Not so much.<br /><br />I have no Mexican ancestry myself, but I'm happy to share some of their traditions during the holidays.
 
Pete December 22, 2015
From what I understand, fish on Christmas Eve is more of a Sicilian/Napoletano and coastal tradition. My dad is from Verona and, being inland, he doesn't recall fish on Christmas Eve. However, where it is celebrated, La Vigilia with seafood is huge. My grandmother (mother's side) was from Sicily and her Christmas Eve's were things of legend. Octopus salad, stuffed calamari in tomato sauce, lobster in tomato sauce (we lived in Boston) served over linguine, eel in agrodolce sauce, scallops, baked stuffed shrimp, stuffed clams, and bacala in tomato sauce. And once in a while she'd stray from the norm of 7 fishes and serve up swordfish rollatini. She pulled this off in one sitting. I remember I couldn't move for hours afterwards. Now, we make it a 4 - 5 hour feast with friends and family, with the dishes served tapas style, spread out over the time. It's much easier on the stomach. If it needs to be in one sitting, a cioppino can seal the deal (clams, mussels, calamari, scallops, swordfish, shrimp) with a side of baked octopus to make it seven.
 
Margaret L. December 24, 2015
My family in Rome always did seven fishes, too. Baccala, eel, stuffed squid, merluzzo, and more.
 
heatheranne December 22, 2015
My in-laws always do fish for Christmas Eve. Bacala e potate is on the menu. (as well as meat, because it's the big extended family dinner, but I think I'm going to stick with the fish).