Within the U.S., holiday traditions vary for every family. This country has people of so many different cultures, which is represented by the diversity of our traditions. In Italy, the Roman Catholic traditional Christmas season is widely celebrated and traditions are more well-known and practiced all over the country. Being Italy, most of these holiday traditions focus on food. From my own experiences celebrating an Italian Christmas in 2015 with my boyfriend's family, and observing other families, I have a collection of general knowledge about these traditions.
Christmas Eve fish
In remembrance of the traditional church mandate of fasting pre-celebration, Christmas Eve dinner is usually served without meat and instead with a variety of fish dishes. Starters include cold fish salads, fried calamari, shrimp, and anchovies, and an oven-baked fish with potatoes. After dinner, many families also head to a midnight mass to celebrate the Christmas Eve vigil the night before. In Rome, churches are packed and the Vatican has been taking ticket reservations for months.
Christmas Day turkey or roast
On Christmas day, the Italian Santa Claus, Babbo Natale, visits every house and leaves presents. The day that Italians exchange presents depends geographically, with some in the north doing it as early as December 13, others on the 25, and more still on La Befana.
In most cases, Christmas day is celebrated with a meat dish (in comparison to the night before) and homemade pasta for a primo piatto. At Edoardo's house, this includes a GIANT plate of homemade fettuccine with ragu and an oven roasted turkey. Dolce includes all kinds of sweets and chocolates, with less emphasis on one main cake.
New Years Lentils
Lentichie for Capodanno are a yearly tradition in Italy; they signify good luck for the year ahead for the family. Usually inside they're cooked with sausages and pork ribs until the meat is tender and has flavored the pot.
The types of Christmas candy and chocolate served for the holiday depends on the region of Italy. Commonly found are candied fruit and nuts, chocolate bars, panforte (made with honey, nuts, chocolate, and dried fruit), cannoli, cookies, and many other goodies.
On the day of the Epiphany, Italian culture dictates that La Befana (a witch) comes and delivers sweets and fills stockings. This day marks the official end to the Christmas celebrations and is celebrated with yet another feast and hefty portions of Pandoro and Panettone, Italian dessert breads.
Seeing how another country and culture celebrates such a tradition-driven holiday is very interesting, especially if you can experience it within the home of an Italian family. There is a set way of doing things for every region of Italy and knowing that you're doing the same thing for Christmas that your ancestors did decades ago is a very comforting idea. An Italian Christmas if full of significance, family time, great food, and a re-centering of religion.