Italian Christmas Eve dinner table with fish and seafood dishes
Italian Lifestyle

Traditional Italian Christmas Eve dinner: all you need to know + how to replicate it at home

Traditional Italian Christmas Eve dinner: food, traditions and all you need to know to recreate a perfect Christmas Eve Italian Menu at home.

My favorite of all Italian festivities is Christmas Eve.

The day before Christmas, and especially the evening, from about 6pm onward, is a big deal in Italy and a time kids and adults expect with trepidation.

Rather than just being the night before Christmas , Christmas Eve in Italy is a Christmas tradition itself.

Families come together for dinner, meals get shared, kids sometimes get a small pre-Christmas-gift and some even use the night to wait for midnight and cheer the arrival on Christmas day at midnight.

This tradition is easy to create or replicate at home, no matter where you are.

These is all you need to know about the traditional Italian Christmas Eve dinner: what to expect if invited while in Italy in December and how to replicated this lovely meal at home.

Traditional Italian Christmas Eve dinner: need to know

Christmas Even dinner is a family affair in Italy.

It is a time when families come together around the Christmas tree and usually comes with a generous meal prepared by the host.

The traditional Christmas Eve meal is fish and seafood based

The origins of this tradition are to be found in the religious tradition of having a light, meat-free day before the big celebration of the 25th of December (the 24th of December is giorno di magro, no meat day, or lean day according to tradition).

However, nowadays it is all but a small meal affair!

Italian families interpret this no-meat day very loosely and tend to make up for a meat based meal with delicious fish bases courses, from started to main.

Desserts are never spared on a Christmas Eve dinner and panettone, pandoro, panforte and torrone abound.

Traditional Italian Christmas Eve dinner menu

A traditional Italian Christmas Eve Menu looks like this


Popular Christmas Eve appetizers in Italy are:

  • Capitone (fish)
  • Smoked salmon crostini (sliced of smoked salmon served on bread with butter)
  • Smokes salmon involtini (smoked salmon slices rolled and filled with goats cheese or creamy cheese such as Philadelphia spread)
  • Shrimp cocktail
  • Crostini with fish mousse
  • Fried mussels

Christmas Eve Menu: primi (first course: pasta or rice)

  • Risotto alla pescatora (seafood risotto)
  • Spaghetti with ink squid (spaghetti al nero di seppia)
  • Spagehtti allo scoglio (spaghetti with seafood)
  • Fish Ravioli
  • Pennette al salmone (pennette is a short pasta format)
  • Salmon lasagne

Chistmas Eve Menu: secondi (main courses)

  • Sword fish parmigiana, a special twist to an Italian favorite
  • Pan fried sword fish
  • Stewed Baccala’ in tomato sauce
  • Roast sea brim (orata al forno)
  • Spigola all’acqua pazza (sea bass with cherry tomatoes, parsley and garlic)

Side dishes

  • Roast potatoes
  • Russian Salad (maybe unexpected, but an Italian Christmas Eve menu staple!)
  • Sauteed mushrooms
  • Roast pumpkin with herbs
  • Sauteed spinach

Traditional Christmas Eve dinner desserts

When it comes to desserts, Christmas Eve ditches the pretense of being a time for light meals and pulls all the stops!

Traditional Italian Christmas Eve Dinner desserts: panettone

In particular, you will serve:

  • Mandarins and clementines
  • Walnuts
  • Torrone (white or black, whatever you love most)
  • Panettone (the traditional one has both raising and candied fruit, but several variations exist now)
  • Pandoro
  • Panforte

How to recreate a traditional Italian Christmas Eve dinner at home

Reading this long list of Christmas Eve food may make you despair about the idea of recreating somehitng thig big and elaborate at home, but it is not as hard as it seam!

Italians do love to cook and Christmas Eve dinner is a big deal, however, many of the items on this list can be bought!

Starters are largely a store bough affair in Italy.

Anything with smoked salmon requires assembly more than actual cooking and several foods such as capitone or sardine usually come from the deli shop.

The same can be said for the desserts.

Italians do no make panettone, pandoro or torrone but rather buy it! Just make sure, when choosing, that you get a good quality one.

If you are in Italy, you wan to make sure you go to a deli shop that is famous for wholesome ingredients and traditional preparation and if you are abroad, you can check your local Italian deli for the best options.

if you want to go traditional remember that Italian panettone has raisins and candied fruit and traditional Italian pandoro doesn’t have cream or fillings.

However, if you love to mix it up you won’t be alone! Italy also sees many variations on the traditional staples so if you want to try pandoro with lemon cream or panettone with no candied fruit, go for it!

I hope you enjoyed this quick overview of what a traditional Italian Christmas Eve looks like and gave you ideas to creat your own. Happy Holidays!

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Marta Correale is an Italian mama of two. Born and raised in Rome, Marta has a passion for travel and especially enjoys showing off Italy to her kids, who are growing up to love it as much as she does! A classics graduate, teacher of Italian as a second language and family travel blogger, Marta launched Mama Loves Italy as a way to inspire, support and help curious visitors to make the most of a trip to Italy and learn about Italian culture on the way.