In Italy the Christmas celebration officially starts on December 8 and lasts until January 6. One of the most important Christmas tradition is the Nativity crib scene. On December 8 most Italian families put out a crib in their homes, which is usually handed down from generation to generation. The figure of the baby Jesus is put into the crib only in the evening of December 24.
In the week before Christmas children go from house to house dressed as shepherds, playing pipes, singing and reciting Christmas poems. They are given money to buy presents.
On Christmas Eve catholic families eat a meatless dinner, usually consisting of fish or seafood. In southern Italy the traditional Christmas Eve dish is Capitone, a big female eel, roasted, baked or fried. Dinner is traditionally followed by a living nativity scene and the midnight mass. When people return from Mass, they might have a slice of Italian Christmas cake called Panettone, which is like a dry fruity sponge cake!
The most significant meal of the festivities is the Christmas Day lunch, which can last for hours. For this occasion a large beautiful table is prepared to accommodate all the guests. The meal usually starts with a classic antipasto serving cuts of cured meat, garnished with olives and cheese. Then follows the pasta dish, traditionally pasta al forno (a kind of lasagne) or cannelloni, of which no Italian will refuse a second serving. Roasted veal, braised beef or roasted chicken with potatoes will be often served as a second dish. Finally, home-made cookies, the mandatory Panettone or Pandoro will be served at the end of this lively family event.
Children write letters to Babbo Natale (Father Christmas) asking for presents. But on Christmas day Babbo Natale might bring them only small gifts, as in Italy the main day for present giving is on Epiphany (January 6). In Epiphany night, La Befana, a kind old witch, will fill children’s stockings with sweets if they have been good or with coal if they have misbehaved.
In Italian Merry Christmas is BUON NATALE! How do you say in your country?
Here’s a recipe for panettone: http://www.bbcgoodfood.com/recipes/863653/mini-panettone