Chef Renato de Pirro remembers fondly his holiday traditions. “When I was little, I was receiving presents on January 6th, the epiphany, when the “Befana”, an old lady on a broom, with a sac full of candies and toys for the good kids, and carbon for the “naughty” ones was going down the chimneys to fill the stockings, in the same day the three kings were delivering their presents to baby Jesus. The Italian holiday customs are a compilation of Christian and “pagan” traditions” said Chef Renato.
His favorite moment of the holidays is when the whole family gathers around the table, where plentiful amounts of food are awaiting for the feast. Of course, in every region and corner of Italy there is a different array of recipes and foods, founded in the deepest traditions of those regions.
The feast starts on Christmas Eve, where fish and seafood take the stage since meat is forbidden on that day. On Christmas day all the meats, fowls, poultry and game are on the table, until the day after Christmas. This is in honor of Saint Stephan, the first protomartyr of the Catholic Church, and that’s when the “leftovers” takes place.
These days there are dishes that are always on the holiday tables, like the traditional sweets, panettone, Pandoro , the Tuscan panforte, panpepato and ricciarelli.
Throughout the world, the night between December 31 and January 1 signifies the passage from one year to the next and is considered a reason to celebrate. Italians normally celebrate with friends by eating a big dinner on New Year’s Eve, similar to the meal consumed on Christmas Eve. Some of the traditional holiday foods include zampone, or pork trotter, and cotechino, pork sausage with lentils.
According to tradition, people eat large quantities of lentils because they are believed to bring good economic fortune in the year to come, probably due to the fact that the beans look like little coins.
Once dinner has come to a close, Italians normally party all night long. Each city has its own traditions, however some customs can be found throughout Italy. Fireworks are set off at midnight as a modern-day version of the old tradition of making a lot of noise on the last day of the year to scare off spirits. Another Italian tradition calls for wearing red underwear, which is supposed to bring good fortune in love.
We hope that you have a very Happy Holiday season and maybe incorporate one of these lovely traditions into your families’ customs.
Here are examples of traditional holiday dishes:
This is a typical dish of Neapolitan gastronomic tradition very much in vogue during the Christmas holidays until the New Year. In reality, the eel, is not consumed only in Naples, but also in all of Southern Italy where it was, and is, eaten to ward off evil. In reality, the eel, is not consumed only in Naples, but also in all of Southern Italy where it was, and is, eaten to ward off evil. Nowadays, the intrinsic meaning of this dish is lost but, stewed eel remains a classic dish of Neapolitan Christmas Eve dinner on the table. Prepare stewed eel is not difficult and at the same time you have on the table one of the most typical dishes and original Christmas tradition.
Mixed Boiled Meat with Salsa Verde
Traditionally served in Northern Italy, this dish pairs well with salsa verde, a mix of chopped herbs, or mostarda, fruit preserved in sugar and mustard oil.
Cotechino with Lentils
Served across Italy on New Year’s Eve, cotechino sausage and lentils is a succulent dish believed to bring good luck to those who eat it in the year to come.
Tortellini in Brodo
Tortellini are small culinary masterpieces with a welcoming and genuine flavor. This is one of the most famous Italian recipes around.