Everyone knows what a traditional English Christmas dinner looks like – turkey, stuffing, brussels sprouts, parsnips, roast potatoes, pigs in blankets and enough gravy to drown your plate. This was the image I grew up seeing on the TV, but it is not the same image I experienced at home.
My family are originally from a small town in Sicily and a town near Naples, and although I was born and raised in England, we have kept Italian culture and food close to our hearts. Unlike England there is no one meal that everyone in Italy eats on Christmas day as every region and family has their own unique traditions.
Advent to Christmas Eve (called Vigilia) is marked by fasting
In contrast to England, an Italian Christmas isn’t just celebrated on the 25th but from Christmas Eve to boxing day. Advent to Christmas Eve (called Vigilia) is marked by fasting, and by fasting, I mean no meats are eaten and fish becomes the star of the show!
My mum told me how her auntie used to cook a dish called Baccalà which is salted cod, often deep-fried and served with pasta, although each region prepares the dish differently.
To start off our Christmas meal, and perhaps with the most shocking dish, we have lasagna
Before we even start eating, we begin our meal with one of the most English Christmas traditions – the Christmas cracker! This is not something Italians do, but it’s one that features in our fusion Italian-English Christmas.
To start off our Christmas meal, and perhaps with the most shocking dish, we have lasagna or a pasta al forno (pasta bake) as a starter! Everyone prepares their lasagna in their own ways, often influenced by the generations before them, but my nan who has the honours of making the Christmas lasagna makes it with salami, egg, beef mince and her homemade tomato sauce.
Following the lasagna, a plethora of dishes such as Italian sausage, chicken in breadcrumbs (pollo milanese), chicken stuffed with cured meats and provola (rotolo di pollo), as well as English staples like roast chicken and potatoes are eaten. Influenced by our English upbringings, my family often has a roast dinner with gammon, carrots and parsnips, roast potatoes and Yorkshire puddings.
My dad recalls having a Sicilian dessert called Buccellati Siciliani
Even after all of that food, there’s still more to come. After we have cleared away our plates, we eat satsumas and oranges with peanuts. Roasted chestnuts (castagna) are also eaten. Although the peanuts are not something most Italians do, oranges and chestnuts are a staple for Christmas, along with dried figs.
Whilst we don’t eat them nowadays, my dad recalls having a Sicilian dessert called Buccellati Siciliani which is a Sicilian shortcrust pastry stuffed with almonds and dried figs, topped with sprinkles and icing sugar. Sadly, we only get to indulge in this treat when we have family visit from Italy around Christmas time.
We will start the feast off with a fresh plate of pasta before delving into the meats and vegetables
What we do always eat along with a good cup of tea is some panettone and pandoro. This sweet brioche like dessert is not only eaten on Christmas day but throughout the whole Christmas period, and I recommend trying this if you want to introduce a bit of an Italian flair to your Christmas meals!
The celebration does not end on Christmas day, however, as on boxing day the family comes back over to eat more food. Although most of what we eat on boxing day consists of leftovers from Christmas, we will start the feast off with a fresh plate of pasta before delving into the meats and vegetables.
The Christmas period is always a day filled with good food and good company, and being Italian also means that we’ve cooked enough food to last us for weeks! Buon Natale!
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