dish of lasagna on kitchen towel with tomatoes, grater, and parmesan cheese block


Eating traditional foods is an essential part of the month-long Christmas season in Italy. Le feste, or Christmas holidays, last from December 8 to January 6th. Find out all about how Italians eat Christmas Eve dinner and Christmas lunch, two of the most important meals of the year in Italy.

The foods at an Italian Christmas feast depend on where in Italy you are. Different regions and areas have different traditional Christmas foods, and there are so many it would be impossible to include them all! In this article you’ll learn about some sample regional Christmas menus and important traditional Italian Christmas foods. You’ll also find out what Italian Christmas meals have in common throughout the peninsula.


Christmas Eve in Italy is on December 24th. In Italian Christmas Eve dinner is called la cena della vigilia (di Natale). It is also called the Christmas Eve feast, or il cenone della vigilia (di Natale) in Italian. It is traditionally a meal of fish and seafood, without meat. In many places in Italy it is just as important as lunch on Christmas day.


Christmas Day in Italy is on December 25th. Christmas lunch is called il pranzo di Natale in Italian. It is meat based, and is the main activity on Christmas Day. Il pranzo di Natale can last for hours.

Read more about Christmas in Italy here.


Most Italians celebrate Christmas at home with family and relatives. There is an important Italian saying: Natale con i tuoi, Pasqua con chi vuoi, which means (celebrate) Christmas  with your family, and Easter with whom you wish.

In Italy it is also possible to eat traditional Christmas meals at a restaurant. The restaurants that are open on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day generally serve a fixed price menu, not à la carte. I definitely recommend reserving in advance.


Whether at home or in a restaurant, Christmas Eve dinner and Christmas lunch in Italy follow the classic sequence of Italian meals. Abundance is key, and the menu has a specific order.

First there is an aperitivo, or aperitif: a drink before the meal with little snacks like peanuts and potato chips. At Christmas this may simply consist of making a toast, or brindisi, with sparkling wine, or spumante. Unless your hosts don’t drink, wine will almost certainly be served throughout the meal.

The antipasto, or appetizer, follows. This can be Italian cured meats, preserved vegetables, and crostini: small pieces of toast with toppings. 

The primo, or first course, is next. This can be fresh pasta, stuffed pasta, or soup, for example. Christmas meals in Italy may have more than one first course. 

The secondo, or second course, follows. This is a meat (or fish) dish. There may be more than one second course as well!

The contorno is a side dish of vegetables, served at the same time as the secondo. Again, there may be several.

The dolce is dessert. At Christmas in Italy there is usually fresh fruit, nuts, and traditional Christmas desserts like panettone and pandoro. Time to make another toast with spumante!

A digestivo or digestif is an alcoholic drink after the meal to help you digest, like limoncello, grappa, or homemade liqueur. 

Especially after Christmas lunch, a caffé, or coffee comes in handy to battle food coma, and help with digestion.


People sitting at table with red tablecloth for Christmas dinner in Italy

Christmas Eve dinner in Italy features fish and seafood, not meat. Here are some sample regional menus that I have compiled through personal interviews, but there are plenty of other wonderful food traditions throughout the peninsula! Dinner is generally served at 8pm.

Here are some examples of traditional Italian Christmas Eve foods and Christmas Eve menus from different parts of Italy. 

Sample Italian Christmas Eve dinner menu: Rome  

Primo (first course):
Spaghetti alle vongole (spaghetti with clams)
Farfalle al salmone (butterfly shaped pasta with salmon)

Secondo (second course):
Pesce al forno (oven baked fish)
Frittura di pesce e verdure (fried fish, seafood and vegetables)

Dolce (dessert): 
Sorbetto al limone (lemon sorbet)

Sample Italian Christmas Eve foods: Southern Calabria

Primo (first course):
Spaghetti allo scoglio (spaghetti with shellfish)
Zuppa di pesce (fish soup)
La Stroncatura, a local specialty from the area near Gioia Tauro: whole wheat spaghetti with toasted breadcrumbs, anchovies, olive oil and copious chili pepper

Contorno (side dish)
Cime di rapa con fagioli (broccoli rabe with beans, another local dish)


Even though they may have feasted on fish and seafood for hours the night before, and also attended midnight mass, Italians sit down at the table again on Christmas Day for another feast. Il pranzo di Natale usually starts at about 1pm, the standard lunch time in Italy. 

Christmas lunch traditionally is a meal that features meat.

Lentils are often eaten at Christmas in Italy to bring good fortune, along with zampone, a pig trotter stuffed with spiced pork made in Modena; or cotechino, a pork sausage from northern Italy. Pork was a rare treat for poor Italian peasants in the not so distant past.

Here are some examples of traditional Italian Christmas foods and sample menus from different parts of Italy. 

Sample Italian Christmas lunch menu: Tuscany

dishes of sformati di spinach and potatoes
Sformati di spinaci and patate

This is a classic Christmas lunch menu from the Chianti area, where my family lives

Antipasti (appetizers):
Crostini neri (small pieces of toasted bread topped with Tuscan liver paté)
Crostini al salmone (small pieces of toasted bread topped with butter and smoked salmon)

Primo (first course):
Tortellini in brodo di cappone (capon broth with fresh meat-stuffed pasta)
Pasta al ragù (pasta with red meat sauce)

Secondo (second course): 
Il lesso (boiled meats that were used to make the first-course broth)

Contorni (side dishes):
Sformato di spinaci (Italian-style spinach flan)
Sformato di patate (Italian-style potato flan

Dolce (dessert):
Ricciarelli (soft almond cookies from Siena)
Panforte (chewy Christmas cake from Siena made with honey, nuts, fruit and spices)

Sample Italian Christmas lunch menu: Rome

Torrone slices as seen in a shop window in Italy

Primo (first course):
Lasagne al ragù (lasagna with red meat sauce)
Lasagne con funghi (lasagna with white sauce and mushrooms)

Secondo (second course):
Abbacchio con le patate (roast lamb with potatoes)
Vitello al tegame (pan-cooked veal)

Dolce (dessert): 
Torrone (chewy nougat with nuts)
Noci e mandorle (walnuts and almonds)

Sample Italian Christmas lunch foods: Southern Calabria

Primo (first course): 
Maccarruni i’ casa: homemade Calabrian maccheroni, with red meat sauce or tomato sauce 

Secondo (second course):
Falso magro (beef roulade filled ground beef and cheese, served with tomato sauce)
Polpette al pomodoro (meatballs in tomato sauce)



Fresh fruit is considered dessert in Italy. Pineapple and tangerines are some of the fresh fruit that Italians enjoy at Christmastime. Italians also traditionally eat frutta secca (nuts and dried fruit) for dessert at Christmastime, like dates, almonds and walnuts. In fact, many Italian Christmas desserts also have frutta secca in them.


packaged pannetone with plastic wrap from Rigacci in Tuscany
Tuscany’s famous panettone from Rigacci

There are wonderful regional Italian Christmas desserts that grace the table at the Christmas holidays.

Torrone, a soft nougat with nuts, is an Italian Christmas dessert with numerous regional variants. It is made all over Italy, but perhaps Cremona in northern Italy is the most famous city for torrone.

Torciglione, from Umbria, is a snake-shaped dessert made of almond flour. 

In Naples, there are struffoli, small little balls of fried dough covered in honey. Other places in Italy have desserts very similar to struffoli. For example, in areas of central Italy like Le Marche and Abruzzo, there is cicerchiata, and in parts of Calabria and Sicily, there is pignolata.

Pandoro and panettone are two leavened yellow Christmas cakes that have become popular all over Italy. Originally from Verona, pandoro means golden bread. It is tall, star shaped, and covered with powdered sugar. Panettone, originally from Milan, is dome shaped. Classic panettone is a sweet bread dotted with candied fruits and raisins, though today’s bakers experiment with savory versions, as well as different sweet combinations.  

Though you can find industrially-made pandoros and panettones at the supermarket, seek out an artisanally baked one at the local bakery. You’ll be glad you did.


The cena della vigilia and the pranzo di Natale will probably start off with a brindisi, or toast, so sparkling wine, or spumante, is a must. There are many wonderful Italian sparkling wines, most notably Prosecco and Franciacorta. Usually there is also a toast with spumante at dessert time as well. 

When toasting and celebrating Christmas in Italy, the most common phrases to say are Buon Natale! and Auguri!

Buon Natale means (Have a) good Christmas! Use it to wish someone a Merry Christmas.

Auguri means best wishes! It is a common word to use on holidays and special occasions. Learn more about auguri in Italian.

If you’re looking for more phrases, read how to say Merry Christmas in Italian.  


Italian antacid - yellow bottle and hand holding citrosodina

While it may seem that you could never possibly eat again after il cenone della vigilia (Christmas Eve dinner) and il pranzo di Natale (Christmas lunch), you will discover that this is not the case. In fact, the very next day you will be back at the table with your family to celebrate Santo Stefano, or St. Steven’s Day. This often means yet another feast, even if it is with Christmas leftovers. 

Not only that, the following week there is the cenone di San Silvestro (the New Year’s Eve feast). And the week after that, there is the Epiphany to celebrate on January 6th.

In order to survive, we keep citrosodina in our house. It’s an antacid that aids digestion which you can buy at the supermarket. Look for the bright yellow container.