Catholic Italians celebrate Christmas as a “day of abstinence", on Christmas Eve the family eats a meatless dinner that traditionally it followed by a living nativity scene and midnight mass. In some parts of southern Italy on Christmas Eve is served a seven fishes dinner known as the Feast of the Seven Fishes or La Vagilia. The most significant meal of the Christmas Day is the lunch or il pranzo. In the northern Italy dishes such as:
- lo zampone - the skin of the lower pig leg, including the toe little bones, filled with minced meat and sausages
- il cotechino - pig's foot stuffed with spiced minced meat
- Sausages made of pig's intestines
- Smothered in lentils
- Turkey stuffed with chestnuts
- Lamb is also enjoyed with mashed potato and lentils
- Tortellini in chicken stock
- Crostini with liver pâté
- l’agnello - lamb accompanied with vegetables, mashed potato and lentils
- torrone - Nougat
- il panettone - the Milanese fruitcake filled with candied fruit
- Gold bread - the traditional cake
- il pandoro - similar to il panettone, only without fruits or raisins
- il panforte - Gingerbread with hazelnuts, honey and almonds
- Vin brule - mulled wine
- Bombardino - Italian version of eggnog
- Punch of rum, mandarin and orange flavours
The "Saturnalia", the greatest feast of the ancient Roman Empire coincide with the Christmas celebrations of the Advent, is for this reason that not only celebrates the birth of Christ but also the birth of the "Unconquered Sun" . The meaning of "Natale" is "Birthday" in English. Officially, the Italian Christmas celebrations start on 8th December with the L'Immacolata Concezione or the Immaculate Conception’s Day and lasts until January 6th. The "Novena” starts on 17th December and during this time the children go home by home reciting Christmas passages.
Actually, Italian children write letters to Santa Claus or Babbo Natale (Father Christmas) asking for presents, but traditionally in Italy the main day for gift giving is Epiphany, these presents are brought by La Befana, a kindly old witch who fill children's stockings in the night with sweets or i dolciumi if they have been good or with coal or il carbone if they have been bad. Santa Lucia is who brings the gifts in Venice and Mantova while in other places is the Baby Jesus or Gesu' Bambino who brings the presents. The children also write to their parent to let know how much they love them, this letter is placed under their father's plate who read it at the end of the Christmas Eve dinner.
Among the traditions, customs and other rituals typical of Christmas season are:
- The main focus of decorations is the presepe, Nativity scene or creche. The churches have a presepe outdoors and traditional bonfires are assembled in the main square of town
- The ceppo known as The Tree of Light is a wooden frame with a pyramid shape; it has several feet high and supports many shelves in its several tiers. The cepo has like bottom a manger scene and on the shelves above are placed small gifts of fruit, candy and presents. it is also beautifully decorated with gilt pinecones, colored paper, little candles and pennants. At the top is placed a star or a small doll.
- Urn of Fate: there are a wrapped present for each family member. If you get a present with your name on it, you keep it; otherwise, you try again with other.
- Zampognari and Pifferai: Bagpipers and flute players dressed with traditional costumes entertain the people at religious shrines.
- In the Vatican City, the people go to the square at noon on Christmas day to receive the Pope's blessing, he appears at his balcony.
- Another tradition is the burning of the Yule log, which must stay alight until New Year's Day.
- The cribs usually handed down from generation to generation, they can be as detailed or as small as you want and are.