All over the world, the Christmas holidays are a time of celebration. They are a time of peace and goodwill, of happiness and laughter, and a time of good food. There are lots of different traditions associated with the holidays, and for many people, at the top of the list will be Christmas dinner.

Across the globe, different countries and cultures eat different food to celebrate Christmas. In the United States, a roasted turkey will sit at the center of the dinner table on Christmas day, in Germany, you will likely find a Christmas goose, and in Japan, fried chicken is the main course of choice. But what about Italy?

Many people consider Italy to be the food capital of the world, so you might be wondering what Italians eat at Christmas. If you want to know the answer, keep on reading!

Is Christmas a Big Celebration in Italy?

Yes, Christmas in Italy is a big celebration. The Christmas festivities begin on December 8th, and they will run all the way through till January 6th. 

Italy is a secular state, but Roman Catholic tradition runs deep in this country’s history. This is why the Christmas celebrations start so early in December, as December 8th is the day of the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. 

Christmas in Italy comes with a lot of different traditions. A number of these traditions revolve around food, so let’s dive right in and take a look at what Italians eat on Christmas. 

What do Italians Eat for Christmas Eve?

During the Christmas season, Italians enjoy a feast. That feast begins the day before Christmas, on Christmas Eve. As we mentioned earlier, Italian traditions are deep rooted in Catholicism. In the Roman Catholic Church, it is prohibited to consume meat the day before a holiday. So, you will not find any meat in an Italian Christmas Eve feast, instead you will find a lot of fish. 

Christmas Eve is a big day for fishmongers in Italy because families do not enjoy a single fish upon this day. Instead, a Christmas Eve feast will consist of a number of different types of fish. Due to this, fishmongers are often very busy on Christmas Eve morning, catching lots of fresh fish to fulfill the large orders placed by Italian families. 

Once the fish has been bought, it is prepared in a number of different ways. A number of courses will be prepared and enjoyed throughout the day, often beginning with fried fish. After this course has been enjoyed, it will often be followed by calamari, octopus, salt cod, or eel. 

Although, these dishes are often just the starter courses of a Christmas Eve feast. Once these different fish dishes have been enjoyed, they will be followed by pasta. Many Italian families will enjoy a pasta dish with fish at its heart on Christmas Eve. Often, the fish used in the pasta course will be something “fancier,” such as lobster or clams. 

Some Italian families will follow the pasta course of Christmas Eve dinner with a final fish meal. Most of the time, this will be a whole roasted fish, served with potatoes. The final course before Catholic Italian families go to Midnight Mass will be Christmas cookies. Italian Christmas cookies are cake-like cookies with a sweet glaze, and a hint of anise in the biscuit itself. Once Christmas cookies are enjoyed, no more food is consumed until Christmas day. 

What do Italians Eat for Christmas Day?

Christmas Dinner in Italy consists of a luxurious feast. There are a number of courses in Italian Christmas Eve dinners, but Christmas Day dinner takes it one step further. Often, more than 12 courses of food will be enjoyed by Italians on Christmas Day. 

The first course of food served on Christmas Day will usually be antipasti. Antipasti is the traditional first course for Italian meals, and this tradition is usually stuck to on Christmas day. This platter of bite-sized portions of meat, vegetables and cheese is the perfect way to whet your appetite, and that is why antipasti is so popular in Italy.

After the first course of Christmas dinner has been enjoyed, it will be followed by many more. Different meals are enjoyed depending on where in Italy you are celebrating, so let’s take a look at some of the most popular traditional Italian Christmas Day dishes. 


One of the first courses enjoyed after antipasti on Christmas Day is often arancini. Arancini is a traditional Italian dish that consists of stuffed rice balls that are deep fried before serving. They are often served early on in the Christmas Day feast as they are a (relatively) light dish.


Canderlini is a popular Italian dish of gnocchi-like dumplings. They are usually made using leftover bread, egg and milk. Before they are cooked, they are seasoned with a variety of different ingredients, such as chives, cheese, and spinach.

Tortellini in Brodo

Tortellini is an Italian dish that has become popular across the globe. On Christmas Day, Italians often enjoy Tortellini in Brodo which consists of egg pasta stuffed with meat and cheese, served in a chicken broth.


Lasagne is another Italian dish that is enjoyed throughout the world. In Italy, lasagne will often be served on Christmas Day as one of the 12 (or more) courses. But be careful, you don’t want to fill up on this heavy dish!

Vitello Tonnato

Among the other meat courses served in Italy on Christmas Day, you will often find Vitello Tonnato. This is a dish that originated in Northwestern Italy, and it consists of cold cut veal served in a creamy tuna sauce. 


One of the most famous Italian desserts for Christmas is Panettone, and this will be enjoyed by Italian families across the country. This dessert is often referred to as the symbol of Liberty in Italy, and it is absolutely delicious.

What Do Italians Eat For Christmas

Summary of What Italians Eat for Christmas

In short, Italians eat a range of different foods over the Christmas period. On Christmas Eve, fish dishes are often enjoyed, whereas on Christmas Day, it is all about meat. And of course, pasta is never absent from the table.

Christmas Dinner in Italy is a feast, and it is packed with delicious regional cuisine, every family placing their own slightly unique signature on the traditions. 

Rick Zullo

Former doctor, current science teacher, and life-long food lover, Rick's passion for Mediterranean cuisine was ignited while living as an expat in Rome, Italy. 


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