Updated: Jan 28
In many corners of the world, Christmas is celebrated. One place that epitomizes the idea of celebration is Italy. Italian and Italian-American traditions and food are festive features of the holiday season, and they bring a sense of warmth and comfort to the “most wonderful time of the year”. Some foods are distinct favorites for Christmas, and a lot of Italians have a very specific meal on Christmas Eve.
A large percentage of Italians and Italian-Americans are Catholic. They have held a longstanding suggestion to abstain from meat on the eve of a feast day. Thus, many Italians enjoy seafood on Christmas Eve. The Feast of the Seven Fishes is the Italian American version of The Vigil, a grand meal focusing on delicious seafood dishes. Some common seafood used in this meal are lobster, squid, octopus, mussels, clams, anchovies, sardines, or baccala, which is dried salt cod. The dishes have been elaborated upon as the years have progressed. In some cases, you’ll find clams casino being served. Or maybe deep fried calamari or homemade puttanesca sauce with anchovies. The “seven fishes” is not only grammatically incorrect, but the origin is also unknown. Theories include that it represents the seven hills of Rome or the seven sacraments of the Catholic Church. Regardless of where and how the tradition began, the Feast of the Seven Fishes is a delicious way to celebrate Christmas Eve. Other popular Italian seafood options are linguine with clam sauce and a variety of salmon dishes.
On Christmas Day itself, traditional dishes such as lasagne and ravioli are paired with whatever else is being served (turkey, ham, duck, goose, etc.). Veal is also a popular choice. Additionally, a roast beef or stuffed cappone are frequently served. And whether you pair your meal with a rich, Brunello di Montalcino or an oak aged chardonnay, the wine selections can increase the joy and happiness of a holiday meal. Another important aspect of the meal is dessert. Espresso and cappuccino are a fantastic post meal choice, along with a cake, such as pannetone or panforte. Pannetone is a sweet bread with fruits and nuts. Panforte is a thinner, chewier sweet bread with honey and spices, and quite frequently covered in powdered sugar. Chocolate-covered fruits are also extremely popular around Christmastime. Cannolis may also be served, although those are tasty at any time of year.
As much as food is a large component of the Christmas cheer when considering an Italian Christmas, decorations and music play a part as well. Oftentimes a ceppo is constructed in an Italian household. This is a pyramid-like structure up to a few feet high, that has multiple shelfs. On the bottom shelf a nativity scene is present. The next shelf up will contain fruits, and sweets. On the top shelf, a star or angel may be placed. Music plays a large role in the Christmas celebration also. Lou Monte’s somewhat comedic “Dominick the Donkey” is not the best representative of a classic Italian Christmas song. The most popular actually include “Tu Scendi Dalle Stelle”, and the Italian versions of “Silent Night” and “White Christmas”. The family may also dance the tarantella, a traditional southern Italian dance that is very upbeat. Of course more rare, yet symbolic traditions can be observed as well. In smaller villages, you may participate in lancio dei cocci, where old dishware is thrown out of windows. This represents the removal of old negative feelings, in order to begin anew.
Regardless of whether the tradition is Italian or Italian-American, Tutto Fresco in the Bel Air, Maryland area remains an amazing place to host a party for any holiday. The authentic Italian dishes are freshly made and extraordinarily delicious.