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  • Have an Italian Christmas
    There's still time to infuse your holiday with traditions from the homeland
    Our Paesani

    by Francesca Di Meglio

    Christmas has arrived. But it's not too late to make your Christmas an Italian one. Here are some last-minute tips for doing just that:

    Let them eat fish. Christmas Eve is the biggest holiday of the year for Italian Catholics, who make up the majority of the country. Unlike Catholics in other parts of the world, Italians refrain from eating meat on Christmas Eve. In fact, they fast all day, and don't start eating the fish until the evening. Family and friends then gather to wait until Midnight Mass and feast on at least seven fishes (or multiples of seven 14, 21, etc.). Popular dishes include baccala (a salted cod fish), linguine with clam sauce, and octopus. In Napoli, some people even make sure to have eel on the table. Italian Americans sometimes include lobster and crab to spice up the meal. You can have Margherita pizza and cheese calzones on hand for those who don't care for fish.

    See: Recipes for a traditional Neapolitan Christmas Eve

    Put out a nativity scene. Italians favor presepe or nativity scenes to the traditional Christmas tree. Some of them have both. But everyone has a nativity scene and they place Jesus into the scene when the clock strikes midnight on Christmas Eve.

    See: Il Presepe and Find Faith in Italian Nativity Scenes

    Sing "Tu Scendi dalle Stelle". This song is the anthem for the holiday season in Italy. Think of it as their "Silent Night." Once you get the song in your head, you'll be humming it all day.

    See: Alex Baroni sings "Tu Scendi dalle Stelle" on YouTube

    Bring the Baby Jesus from door to door. On Christmas Eve night in southern Italy, many town elders and their families carry the baby Jesus a large, life-size doll from door to door for families to greet the Savior. This is like their version of caroling. Sometimes, they sing. The families kiss the baby and offer their visitors drinks and merriment. Since you probably don't know all your neighbors, as you would in the small towns of Italy, you should probably only do this with your close friends and relatives. The first time I celebrated Christmas in Ischia, this was among the nicest surprises. You get to wish everyone a joyous holiday while still remembering the reason for the season.

    See: Ischia Travel Guide

    Celebrate the Epiphany. In Italy, the holiday season officially ends on January 6, the day commemorating the arrival of the three wise men in Bethlehem. On that day, Italians wait for La Befana, the Italian Christmas witch. She brings thoughtful little surprises to good Italian boys and girls. Traditionally, she has placed pencils, walnuts, and tangerines in the stockings of good children and coal in those who have been bad. In fact, she's been around for centuries, whereas Babbo Natale (or Santa Claus) has only relatively recently started to visit Italian children on Christmas.

    See: La Befana

    Get in touch with your relatives in Italy. Give yourself the best holiday present of all: Time on the phone or via Webcam with your family and friends in the homeland. You won't regret it.

    See: Send Your Love to Italy for the Holidays

    For more information on all things Italian, visit


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