Top 5 Traditions of a Truly Italian Christmas: Oh Yes, Food’s One of Them
Italian Christmas

You’ve dreamt of an Italian Christmas, we all have. Reminiscing about family, love and food, (la famiglia, l’amore e il cibo, as our students know), it’s hard to ignore the holiday spirit. This year, treat yourself to an Italian Christmas – no matter where you are.

Let’s be honest, it’s one of the most important aspects of any holiday tradition, and the Italians don’t mess around when it comes to cuisine. You may need to plan for a loose outfit, warning. Meat is a no go (and sometimes no dairy) on Christmas Eve, known in Italian as “la Vigilia di Natale”. Don’t let banned beef disappoint you; a deliciously light seafood meal is eaten in perfect preparation for the celebrations to come.

Italian-American families opt for something a bit more indulgent with “The Feast of the Seven Fishes” (‘Esta dei Sette Pesci’ in Italian). Brought to the US in the 1800s, it’s become more popular in the states than Europe for good reason. If you’re in the city, spare yourself from doing the dishes and head to the East Village for Hearth’s annual Feast of Seven Fishes. Their menu boasts marinated calamari scungilli salad, linguine con vongole and a hearty fish stew… You’ll thank us later!

Alas, the true feast comes at lunchtime on Christmas Day, featuring Grandma-made stuffed pasta, boiled capon, guinea fowl or venison, lamb or salsiccia sausage meat. Buon appetito!

No Junk
Americans traveling to Italy often complain that Italy has lost its Christmas spirit, lacking our beloved brightly lit trees and tacky plastic reindeer.  It’s true, they opt out of wasteful décor, but they fill it with true beauty. Most notably, the sounds of bagpipes fill the air on Christmas Day. Shepherds called the zampognari venture out of their mountain homes to fill Italian market squares with their celebratory jamsesh adapted from old hill tunes. Legend says that the shepherds entertained the Virgin Mary in Bethlehem – #funfact.

No Children Crying About Santa
Our favorite Christmas tradition may actually be the omission of one – the dreaded letter to Santa. Each and every year, parents cringe at the list of must-haves and wipe children’s tears away when they don’t receive a proper response. Instead of writing letters to Santa Claus asking for presents, Italian children write letters to tell their parents how much they love them. Talk about a way to butter up the parents! The letter is placed under Dad’s plate on Christmas Eve and read during the celebration – we highly recommend implementing this Christmas tradition.

La Tombola (i.e. BINGO)
Ok, you may wonder why we would insert this family friendly fun into the top 5… But this form of bingo is a hugely famous pastime in Italy around Christmas. Some partake on Christmas Day, after the huge feast has been digested. Others do it on Christmas Eve, a way to draw the evening out before heading to Midnight Mass.

All you’ll need is a set of cards, beans (or other little nuggets) to cover the numbers once they’ve been called, and your clique. Serve some fabulous cocktails on the side and read up on the tombola rules here.

The Epiphany
Our Top 5 list wouldn’t be complete without a traditional Christian celebration, one that may be more popular than even Christmas in Italy. The Epiphany finds itself 12 days after December 25th, honoring the manifestation of Jesus for the first time. On the 6th of January, children receive the gifts brought to them by the infamous witch Befana. Carrying sweets for good children and coal for the naughty ones, she’s a perfectly New York replacement for Santa Claus. Plus, we love a good excuse to extend gift-giving season!

Let’s face it; Italians have mastered the art of living life indulgently, filled to the brim with small pleasures. The holiday season falls no differently, with rich culture, incredible food, and tradition as quirky as the Italian neighbor you’ve got down the hall. This year, try out a 7 Fish Feast or take a stab at some Italian BINGO, your boxed ornaments won’t miss you!