Christmas Food in Italy: Traditional Holiday Foods and Where to Try Them

Want to try the Christmas food in Italy? Whether you’re traveling to Italy over the holidays or wish you were, we’ll help bring a traditional Italian Christmas to you!

If you are vacationing in Italy this December, you probably already know that there is so much to look forward to! Bright twinkling lights, cheerful holiday tunes, postcard scenery and most importantly, the many Italian Christmas foods that are just waiting to be tried.

The best part of Christmas in Italy is that it lasts for much longer than most other places! Beginning around the 8th of December, festivities last until the 6th of January, the Feast of the Epiphany. So if you plan to visit Italy this winter, you'll be glad to know you’ll have an extra long time to experience the many holiday traditions of bella Italia.

While celebrations vary across regions, the midnight Mass at a local church is a standard throughout the country. In central and southern Italy, you’re likely to be serenaded by ‘shepherds’ or zampognari di Natale as you walk along the piazzas. The shepherds play the traditional “zampogna”, an Italian wind musical instrument similar to a bagpipe during the Christmas season around Naples and Rome.

Then on January 6, the Feast of the Epiphany and the end of the holiday season, La Befana, the traditional “good witch” of Christmas flies in on her broom, gifting children who have been good with gifts and treats, while the bad boys and girls get lumps of coal. Her broom symbolizes a clean sweep for the new year ahead.

Want to try some of Italy’s traditional Christmas foods but can’t stay for the holidays? Visit a food festival or Christmas market instead!

There are several great Christmas markets in Italy where you can try some of unique local foods only available around the Christmas holidays.

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What You’ll Find in Christmas Food in Italy:

Christmas Food in Italy

Christmas Eve Dinner in Italy: The Feast of the Seven Fishes

Traditional Italian Christmas food: Northern vs Southern Italy

Italian Christmas Food on Christmas Day 

Appetizers, Primi Piatti, Secundi, Dolce: Italian Christmas Desserts

Christmas Food in Italy

But what about the food? We love the food in Italy but what’s traditional over the holiday season?

Christmas food in Italy is filled with once a year delights and enough sweets to weight down even the strongest holiday stocking. But it’s not all catered to the sweet tooth.

Traditional Italian Christmas food tends to be a combination of unique, once a year treats like the Roasted Veal, and those foods enjoyed throughout the year. Higher quality food and better cuts of meat and seafood are more expensive and therefore sometimes reserved just for the holidays.

So bundle up, grab a cioccolata calda al passegio (hot chocolate to go), brush up on your Italian, and stroll through the cities and towns to discover the native dishes that are defined by Christmas. Here’s a short list of Christmas foods in Italy that are to die for!

Christmas Eve Dinner in Italy: The Feast of the Seven Fishes


Christmas Eve in America and Christmas Eve dinner in Italy are fairly different, but they do have a few things in common: fish. Christmas Eve dinner to Italian-Americans is synonymous with one thing — Festa dei Sette Pesci, or the “The Feast of the Seven Fishes.”

But have you wondered how and why this tradition came to be? We have! We’ve asked our relatives many times and still can’t find answers, so we decided to find out more about the original Christmas food traditions in Italy.

On the 24th of December in Italy, La Vigilia di Natale, many Italian families celebrate by setting up a nativity scene and heading out for Christmas Mass, sometimes even at midnight. They return home late in the evening and gather around a table laden with seven kinds of unique seafood dishes —usually consisting of one or two types of fish prepared in seven different ways!

This was a bit of a relief, as we always thought there should be 7 different kinds of fish. Whew!

But why lucky number seven you ask? Catholic symbolism is full of references to the number seven. From the seven sacraments, the seven deadly sins and the seven days it took for all of Creation to come into existence. The Bible even has the number seven repeated over 700 times!

Eating fish on Christmas Eve is an ancient custom. It comes from Roman Catholics avoiding meat and dairy on the eve of certain holidays, and Southern Italy, well known for its beautiful coast, teeming with fresh fish and other seafood. Classical seafood recipes have been carefully created, preserved and passed down through families for generations. 

What will really surprise you about this tradition is that it is purely an American concept! The practice is believed to have started in the early 1900s when homesick Italian American families decided to honor their roots by preparing an elaborate seven-course seafood-themed meal.

Considered to be a variant of the Sicilian La Vigilia di Natale (Vigil of the Nativity), or the Cenone (Great Supper), this fusion festival marries the Old Country’s sacred rituals and the New World’s modern ideas, to bring an end to a long day of fasting with a delectable seafood feast. 

Usually, the Italian Christmas foods you see at this feast are fish and shellfish local to the region. Most commonly, the fishes include baccalà (salt cod), capitone (eel), calamari (squid), frutti di mare (shellfish)  and more.


Traditional Italian Christmas Food


On the 24th of December, Italian fish markets are packed to the gills with a huge variety of fish that is fresh from the waters and local to the region. In southern Italy and Sicily, elaborate fish banquets are common keeping true to their culture of seafood. 


Northern Italy


 Christmas Eve dinner in Italy is incomplete without this salted cod dish. There are so many ways to make this starter across the country, but one common theme is that it is usually served with vegetables. In Veneto, baccalà mantecato is often served as cicchetti in keeping with tradition.

Spaghetti al Nero di Seppia

For a rustic “earthy” flavor, with a silky smooth mouthfeel, try the jet black squid ink with pasta. This spectacular Venetian dish consists of a sauce made from sliced cuttlefish fried in olive oil with garlic, and coupled with a white wine.

Where to Try It?

Osteria Ai Promessi SposiCalle dell'Oca, 4367, 30121 Venice

The Osteria Ai Promessi Sposi will never leave you disappointed with their squid ink pasta. With great food, wine, service and atmosphere, what more do you need?


Southern Italy


Naples is almost as famous for baccalà alla Napoletana as it is for pizza. But it’s unique preparation is different from the baccalá you’ll find in Venice. Instead, this southern Italian recipe dresses the rehydrated fish lightly in lemon and olive oil, with some herbs thrown in for good measure.

Where to Try It?

Baccalaría Piazzetta di Porto, 4, 80134 Naples

If you’d like to try this dish around the holidays, Baccalaría is a cute restaurant in Naples that serves baccalà in several ways including Neapolitan-style, for the pescatarian who loves their fish made in a less-fishy way. While a little heavy on the wallet, the sheer culinary delight on offer is going to have you coming back for more.

Branzino al Cartoccio 

The European Sea Bass or branzino is a white meat fish which is light and sweet. The mild flavor of this Mediterranean main course is what brings forward the tender notes of couscous, the tangy burst of tomatoes, and brine of olives.


A symbolic Italian Christmas food, the capitone is a female eel weighing over 350g! The delicate white meat of this fish is fried or grilled, and then marinated in vinegar to put together a beloved dish of Southern Italy. If you have a chance to try this dish, don’t miss out!

Pesce Spada alla Siciliana

Famous in Calabria and Sicily, the Pesce Spada alla Siciliana is a stunning example of South Italian coastal cooking. This traditional Italian Christmas food consists of a swordfish fillet topped with a sauce made from olives, tomatoes, and capers. Make sure to pair it with a full-bodied dry white wine from the South to bring forth that amazing flavor.

Italian Christmas Food: Christmas Day

If you wait all year for the delicious holiday foods to appear, your stomach will have plenty to celebrate in an Italian-style Christmas. A traditional Italian Christmas dinner is typically enjoyed mid-day, and includes some unique foods and countless sweet treats and Italian desserts, so you’ll have lots to work through in the days leading up to Christmas and even more to work off for weeks after!


Antipasti, or the appetizer before the pasta, are the first Italian holiday foods served at the start of a feast. They are presented on elegant individual plates in bite-sized pieces that are passed around the table or displayed as a centerpiece at parties. The antipasti is what sets the stage for the upcoming feast, and the following dishes prove it!


Looking for crispy, deep-fried Christmas foods in Italy to satisfy your cravings? Arancini or stuffed Italian rice balls are precisely what you need.

Where to Try It?

Bar Vabres Via Michele Cipolla, 85, 90123 Palermo

A traditional food for the feast of Santa Lucia in Sicily, some of the best arancini in the world can be found at Bar Vabres. The cafe is a respected place of worship of the Arancina di riso for even the most hardcore Italian foodie. Close to bus and train stations, this is the perfect place to grab a quick bite. And for the coffee fanatics, it is also the perfect place to get your caffeine fix for the day from the many varieties of traditional and international blends available.

Primi Piatti

The first plates in Italy or primi piatti are typically heavy on carbs like gnocchi, risotto and pasta, through the preparation differs. It may sometimes include soup, tarts and more.


What wheat pasta is to southern Italy and egg pasta is to Emilia Romagna, and rice is to Milan for that matter, Canederli is to South Tyrol in northern Italy. A very Germanic dish, the famous bread dumplings of Trentino Alto Adige called canederli are the most common carb you’ll find, and there are many flavor variations on the theme.

At Christmastime, canaderli are ever present on the holiday table, a warm way to celebrate the day. The gnocchi-like dumplings are formed from leftover bread mixed with egg and milk. Then the seasonings are added in — everything from cooked spinach and greens to chives, onion, and local grated cheese. The most common seasonings of all are cheese and speck, the dried cured meat of South Tyrol.

The balls are then cooked in consommé or sautéed with melted butter and served.

Where to Try It?

Forsterbräu TrentoVia Paolo Oss-Mazzurana, 38, 38122 Trento

This birreria in the heart of Trentino is a great place to try the local canaderli dumplings, along with lots of other fine Tyrolean food.

A traditional Christmas dinner in Italy tends to feature stuffed pastas as a common second course before the meat arrives. These are often in the form of a soup or baked pasta dish such as lasagne or baked manicotti.

Tortellini En Brodo

A year round staple in the cuisine of Emilia Romagna, this simple comfort food is also a favorite Italian Christmas food there. This first course consists of a handmade ring-shaped egg pasta stuffed with a combination of cheeses and pork. It is frequently served in a fragrant chicken broth.

Where to Try It?

All’Osteria Bottega Via Santa Caterina, 51, 40123 Bologna

At the All’Osteria Bottega in Bologna, each spoonful of food is pure satisfaction. Go with your significant other or your family for a lovely welcoming atmosphere and good food.


Undoubtedly one of the most popular Christmas foods in Italy, this dish has many varieties across the country that are all made from to the local produce available in each area. This Italian holiday food is great for large families as it is yummy, filling and very well balanced. 

Where to Try It?

Ai Tre Scalini Via Panisperna, 251, 00184 Rome

When in Rome, do as the Romans do. Grab your partner and set out for a lovely dinner at the quaint and charming Ai Tre Scalini. With over a 100 selections of premium, rare, vintage and boutique wines, unwind with a glass or two as you indulge in some decadent lasagna and ricotta with truffle honey after a day of sightseeing. They even have accommodations for vegans and those with allergies or gluten restrictions.


Christmas Veal with Tuna Sauce (Vitello Tonnato)

Originating from northwestern Italy in Piedmont, this dish is remarkable in its sheer contrariness! Combining fish and meat, this “tuna-ied veal” is a Christmas tradition where a cut of cold veal is lathered (or drizzled) with a creamy tuna sauce. Make sure you complement the richness of this dish with a light red wine.

Where to Try It?

Trattoria Trippa Via Giorgio Vasari, 1, 20135 Milan

Your quest for the perfect vitello tonnato will lead you to Milan’s Trattoria Trippa, a trattoria that exudes an old-world charm in a modern and refined way that’s guaranteed to warm your heart and your belly. This is the place to be for solo travelers or friends who want to experience exquisite Italian holiday food.  

In Central Italy, you’re likely to find meat on the Christmas table as well, though Roast Lamb is more of what you’ll find, roasted with potatoes, garlic and local fresh herbs.

The southern Italian regions like Campania, Calabria, and into Sicily, is where you’ll find fish and eel (capitone) as a popular second course. The oily quality of eels makes them ideal for grilling and charring, but they can also be found in stews and cioppino.

Dolce: Italian Christmas Desserts

This is of course the best part of any meal — the sweet ending of the meal with some Italian Christmas desserts and sweets.


Known as the symbol of liberty in Italy, this traditional Christmas bread of Milan has a cute story behind its creation. At a banquet hosted by the Duke of Milan, the dessert got accidentally burnt. So a young cook named Toni stepped in and fashioned a rich brioche bread peppered with candied fruit and raisins. This impressed the Duke so much and thus was born the tradition of "Pane di Toni."

Where to Try It?

Pasticceria CucchiCorso Genova, 1, 20123 Milan

Pasticceria Cucchi is one of the oldest bakeries in Milan and produces some of the best panettone in the city. If you want to order a famous brand instead — maybe as holiday holiday gifts from Italy — try the Bonifanti Glazed Panettone and the Balocco Marron Glacé Panettone to taste panettone as authentic as they come.

Editorial credit: Tinxi, Shutterstock


Pandoro is a golden Christmas cake/bread from Verona that is a traditional dessert for Christmas dinner in Italy. This dense and moist sweet bread is served with powdered sugar dusted overtop. It first came to be in the 19th century, when Italy granted pastry chef Domenico Melegatti exclusive 3-year rights to produce this specialty cake.

These special 8-pointed star-shaped pastries are gorgeous and tasty too! Some great Pandoro brands to look for include Rustichella d’Abruzzo, Nudo, and Biasetto.


If you like sticky, chocolate-y sweets, with a hint of spice, you’ll love panforte, the traditional holiday dessert from Siena in Tuscany. This decadent treat contains no flour at all but is loaded with cocoa, fruits and nuts, sweetened with honey, and spiced with holidays flavors.

Variations of this great dessert include Panforte Nero (a darker version with an underlying taste of almonds) and Panforte Margherita (a lighter, more delicate version which was originally devised by Enrico Righi in the 19th century to be served to a visiting Queen Margerita).

Panforte is easy to make at home and keeps well — making it perfect DIY food gifts for the holidays wrapped in pretty paper!

Where to Try It?

Bar Pasticceria Gelateria SinattiVia Fiorentina, 99, 53100 Siena


With so many traditional Christmas treats from central and southern Italy, it’s easy to forget the more alpine holiday favorite of Christmas Stollen, or Christstollen, the Christmas bread that’s full of nuts, raisins, and candied fruit, and powdered like snow overtop.

Like many other holiday sweets, there are variations on this theme, but this is one fruity holiday bread that gets better over time — which may be a good thing, with so many tempting treats at the table!


Like little Christmas tree ornaments glistening and smattered with colorful glitter, struffoli is an ever present holiday treat in Napoli. A heaping mound of fried dough balls (similar to little zeppole) are drizzled with honey and formed (stuck) into the shape of a Christmas tree or wreath, then dusted with colored sprinkles on top.

The sticky-sweet concoction seems to last for weeks, but it’s always fun to see who finishes the last few morsels long after Christmas is over.


Christmastime is the perfect time to explore the myriad delicacies of the numerous regions of Italy. Throw away your weighing scales and don’t hesitate to sink your teeth into local cuisines as you make your way through the country. Because in Italy, food is sacred and good eating is a religion.

Buon Natale!