Christmas Eve to The Epiphany - Italian Traditions

Cenone della Vigilia, Christmas Eve dinner, or Pranzo di Natale, Christmas lunch? It is here that Italy divides!

Christmas Eve dinner in the south

Especially in southern Italy, people start eating on Christmas Eve, with the big Cenone della Vigilia, a big Christmas Eve dinner. This is highlight of Christmas. However, the meal continues December 25 with the Pranzo di Natale and can even last until December 26, Santo Stefano. A great culinary tour de force! The gift exchange often takes place on Christmas Eve, when Italians gather at the homes of friends and relatives.

Christmas lunch on the 25th in the north

In the north, on the opposite, the Christmas lunch on 25 is the highlight of the festivities. On Christmas Eve, people usually get together with friends, go to midnight mass, drink mulled wine, and eat a piece of panettone in the piazza. The gifts brought by Santa Claus during the night are opened on the morning of the 25th in the small circle of the family. Then the relatives come to the Pranzo di Natale, the Christmas lunch, which of course lasts very long and flows over to dinner. December 26, the day of Santo Stefano, is further celebrated and eaten, often with other relatives.

January 6, l’Epifania (Epiphany), is the last day of Christmas. In the morning the children find a nice surprise: The night before the Befana flew across the country on her broom and filled the socks on the fireplace, which the children had hung up the day before, with sweets and small gifts. But beware: children who have not been good, get coal!

Here is a very famous children’s song:

La Befana vien di notte
con le scarpe tutte rotte
col cappello alla romana

viva viva La Befana.

(The Befana comes at night – with all broken shoes – with a Roman style hat – long live the Befana).

Afterwards, people go to the Epiphany Mass and then they meet again with the family for lunch to enjoy the last day of Christmas together. There is no typical dish for it. But for example, in Varese (Lombardy) it is typical to eat the Cammello: this is a simple pastry made of puff pastry, which has the shape of a camel. This is to remind us of the Three Kings who came to Jesus on camels.

After having a nice meal, all the decorations, the nativity scene and the Christmas tree are taken down. The Christmas season is over, and, in most cases, school starts the next day! As the saying goes:

L’Epifania, tutte le feste si porta via! (Epiphany takes away all holidays).

Buon Natale e Buon Anno Nuovo!