La Vigilia: How to Celebrate CHRISTMAS EVE Like an ITALIAN
If you say Christmas, Italians say famiglia. This is the most sacred holiday in Italy and it is completely dedicated to families sharing love and a lot of food. It starts with Christmas Eve and continues to Christmas Day.
A TRIUMPH OF FOOD AND LOVE
A very famous Italian proverb says: “Natale con i tuoi, Pasqua con chi vuoi,” meaning that is mandatory to spend Christmas with your family and loved ones, but you can choose friends or whoever you want for Easter. That’s because Natale is Famiglia, is long tables covered with delicious food and wine. This time in Italy is really is a magical experience: from December 8th with the celebration of the Immaculate Conception, to Epiphany on January 6th, when the “Magi” arrive in Bethlehem with their gifts for baby Jesus.
CHRISTMAS EVE, LA VIGILIA
On December 24th every Italian begins the Christmas season marathon, especially in the South. It starts with La Vigilia, Christmas Eve. Traditionally the family gathers together for a magnificent and multi-course dinner, waiting for the birth of the baby Jesus on midnight and the mass. The undisputed star of Christmas Eve is a seafood dinner. On the red table you will find fine and rich dishes with fish and vegetables. Even though each Italian region celebrates Christmas its own way, usually the menu is entirely meatless with antipasti (appetizer), primi (first course), secondi (main course), contorni (side), insalate (salad) and dolci (dessert).
EACH REGION OF THE COUNTRY HAS ITS OWN TRADITIONS
As you know, our cuisine is famous for its regional diversity, especially between the north and the south of Italy. Christmas Eve isn’t an exception! If you are in Naples, you will have a sumptuous Vigilia. during Christmas time, there are two important meals in Naples: the Christmas Eve dinner based on fish and then the Christmas Day lunch is all about meat. It would be literally impossible to list all the dishes on the December 24th table. The rich meal will include spaghetti with clams; “Minestra Maritata,” a traditional chicory escarole soup with capon broth; the “Insalata di rinforzo” - reinforced salad – with cauliflower, mixed pickles, peppers, olives and salted anchovies; other traditional musts are fried eel and cod. Salted cod fish – the baccalà – is indeed one of the most popular dishes for Southern Italians.
THE FEAST OF THE SEVEN FISHES
On Christmas Eve, the Italian immigrants in the US celebrate the grand “Festa dei sette pesci,” the Feast of the Seven Fishes. The dinner consists of seven different seafood dishes. The tradition comes from Southern Italy.
- Donatella Mulvoni