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How Christmas dinner changes depending where you are in Italy

What do Italians eat for Christmas dinner? As with so many things in this country, there are big regional differences.

How Christmas dinner changes depending where you are in Italy
Italian antipasti. Photo: DepositPhotos

You might know that each of Italy's 20 regions has its own culinary specialties and traditions. And at Christmas, this is no different.

READ ALSO: Six quirky Italian Christmas traditions you should know about

While many people in countries such as the US and UK will traditionally have turkey (or possibly some other kind of roasted meat) with all the trimmings, things are a lot more varied in Italy, and the Christmas meal you'll eat depends on the region (as well as province, town, and family) you're visiting over the holidays.

With the help of The Local's readers in Italy, we took a closer look at typical menus for Christmas dinner across the country.

The feast of the (many) fishes

On Christmas eve, or La Vigilia di Natale, many people in overwhelmingly Catholic Italy will avoid meat, feasting on fish and seafood instead.

The menu on the evening of December 24th will often feature baccalà (salted cod), oysters, clams and king prawns. White wine, particularly bollicine, or sparkling wines, are a popular accompaniment.

Eels are often in pride of place on Christmas eve tables, especially in southern Italy and along the Adriatic coast. They must be as fresh as possible, which is why you'll often see tanks of live eels wriggling in fishmongers' windows or on market stalls at this time of year.

Freshly caught eels for sale. Photo: Stefano Mortellaro/Flickr

You might have heard this meal referred to as the “feast of the seven fishes”. This is thought to be an American-Italian adaptation of old traditions. In Italy you're unlikely to hear it called that – and seven plates won't be enough. Traditions vary, but many families insist that thirteen diishes is traditional, while others are satisifed with nine.

Either way, there's going to be plenty of food. But make sure you save space for lunch the next day.

Il Cenone: “the big dinner”

When they call the meal on December 25th il cenone, Italians aren't joking – it's huge, and you can expect to be sat at the table for three or four hours. Possibly even longer, especially in the south.

This is one occasion when you'll have all the courses, from antipasti to dolce, and of course a digestivo and/or caffe.

Stocking up on panettone ahead of Christmas day. Photo: AFP

But what can you expect to see on the table?

While some countries associate lamb with Easter, here in Italy it's a popular Christmas dish, usually roasted and served as a secondo (second course) with potatoes.

But it doesn't have to be lamb, and that certainly won't be all you have.

Readers around the country told our Facebook group they usually have everything from pizza fritta (fried pizza) to polpettone (meatballs) with their Italian friends and family members on Christmas day.





Christmas lasagne is all you need.

A post shared by Clare Samantha (@clarespeak) on

Here in Puglia, the Christmas meal usually begins with a dozen antipasti, then lasagne (or perhaps baked pancakes filled with cheese, or macaroni al forno), followed by roast lamb and potatoes, fruit, and finally a big wedge of panettone.

However, that's in an inland area – half an hour away on the coast, you're more likely to be enjoying a seafood feast (again).

In Piemonte, Claudia Pessarelli says agnolotti con il sugo di stufato (a typical kind of pasta filled with meat) are a must-have. “Everything else can change each year, but those need to be on the table “

In Veneto, Chiara Fava tells us the meal on Christmas Day includes “baccalà (salted cod), faraona (guinea fowl), polenta, radicchio (chicory), bigoli in salsa (a type of whole-wheat pasta with onion and salt-cured fish), salmon; and to drink, Prosecco and red wine.”

But one thing's for sure: wherever you're spending Christmas in Italy, you're going to eat very well indeed.


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Why Friday the 13th isn’t an unlucky date in Italy

Unlucky for some, but not for Italians. Here's why today's date isn't a cause for concern in Italy - but Friday the 17th is.

Why Friday the 13th isn't an unlucky date in Italy

When Friday the 13th rolls around, many of us from English-speaking countries might reconsider any risky plans. And it’s not exactly a popular date for weddings in much of the western world.

But if you’re in Italy, you don’t need to worry about it.

There’s no shortage of strongly-held superstitions in Italian culture, particularly in the south. But the idea of Friday the 13th being an inauspicious date is not among them.

Though the ‘unlucky 13’ concept is not unknown in Italy – likely thanks to the influence of American film and TV – here the number is in fact usually seen as good luck, if anything.

The number 17, however, is viewed with suspicion and Friday the 17th instead is seen as the unlucky date to beware of.

Just as some Western airlines avoid including the 13th row on planes, you might find number 17 omitted on Italian planes, street numbering, hotel floors, and so on – so even if you’re not the superstitious type, it’s handy to be aware of.

The reason for this is thought to be because in Roman numerals the number 17 (XVII) is an anagram of the Latin word VIXI, meaning ‘I have lived’: the use of the past tense apparently suggests death, and therefore bad luck. It’s less clear what’s so inauspicious about Friday.

So don’t be surprised if, next time Friday 17th rolls around, you notice some Italian shops and offices closed per scaramanzia’.

But why then does 13 often have a positive connotation in Italy instead?

You may not be too surprised to learn that it’s because of football.

Ever heard of Totocalcio? It’s a football pools betting system in which players long tried to predict the results of 13 different matches.

There were triumphant calls of ho fatto tredici! – ‘I’ve done thirteen’ – among those who got them all right. The popular expression soon became used in other contexts to mean ‘I hit the jackpot’ or ‘that was a stroke of luck!’

From 2004, the number of games included in Totocalcio rose to 14, but you may still hear winners shout ‘ho fatto tredici’ regardless.

Other common Italian superstitions include touching iron (not wood) for good luck, not toasting with water, and never pouring wine with your left hand.