Old street in Parma
Old street in Parma

Christmas Around The World: Italy

Part of Christmas’s unwavering charm is the routines and traditions we associate with it. Whether it’s a ritual enjoyed by your family while putting up your tree (one of our team members says there must be mulled wine, party food and Christmas music while assembling the tree and unwrapping ornaments to decorate it with!) or a recipe that always gets made on the big day itself – we all have our holiday quirks that simply make Christmas, well, Christmas! So, when we turn our attention to other countries and look at how they celebrate, it will come as no surprise to learn that other cultures also have their own traditions where festivities are concerned. We’ve rounded up what goes on over Christmas in the countries we can take you to in case you fancy trying something new this year.


The festivities in Italy are very much about the food, as you might imagine. Celebrations begin on Christmas Eve with the Feast of the Seven Fishes – or Esta dei Sette Pesci. Traditionally a day of fasting for Catholics ahead of Christmas Day, which saw festivities begin after mass in the evening, the evening now tends to consist of an extravagant dinner where seafood is enjoyed. You’ll commonly find clams, oysters, lobster, mussels, squid and baccalà on Christmas Eve tables in Italy.

With a meal so extravagant, it might leave you wondering how Italians celebrate Christmas Day itself! Well, the lunch – pranzo di Natale – is an extravagant and often quite long affair, with a selection of courses that can include tortellini in brodo (filled pasta in broth), roasted meats, baked pastas with rich sauces, sweet breads such as panettone or pandoro, and delicate pastries. Meals are typically rounded off with a shot of espresso and the festive period itself continues on until January 6, which is the day of Epiphany and sees children wake in the morning to see if la Befana (a witch-like woman who rides a broomstick) has left them either candy or coal overnight.

Recipe for tortellini in brodo, very traditional in Italy’s north and perfect as a first course (serves four)

Pasta ingredients

  • 250g 00 flour
  • Pinch of salt
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 1 whole egg
  • Splash of olive oil

For the broth and filling

  • Good quality chicken stock, enough to fill four bowls of pasta (around 1 litre)
  • 40ml double cream
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 200g pancetta
  • 200g Tuscan ham or mortadella (or any similar substitute)
  • 1 breast of chicken (around 200g)
  • Salt and pepper to taste


Making the pasta

Sieve the flour and put onto a work surface, making a well in the centre, which you’ll fill with the three egg yolks and one whole egg, and a tiny splash of olive oil. Fold in the flour until it has come together as a dough, knead for around 10 minutes until it’s smooth and then wrap in clingfilm. Leave the dough to rest in the fridge for at least 45 minutes.

Filling for the tortellini

Cook the chicken breast using your preferred method and then once cooked and cooled, blitz in a food processor along with the pancetta (also pre-cooked) and meat. Add the cream to help loosen the mixture and season to taste. Pour in the egg yolk and finish blitzing. The mixture, if cool already, can be stored in the fridge until ready to be used.

Creating the tortellini

Cut the dough into manageable chunks and then roll them out to the point where they can be passed through a pasta machine. Keep feeding the dough through the pasta machine until it is as thin as you can get it, and then cut around 60 squares of 5x5cm each. Fill each square with a portion of the filling (around ¾ teaspoon), turn the square so that it’s diamond-shape when facing you and fold the top point over to meet the bottom point, forming a triangle. Press the dough down around the filling, pick up the triangle, fold the bottom point up on itself a little bit so that the edge is flatter, and then wrap the two points back around to seal your tortellini. If that’s confusing, this video​ is a fantastic visual aid! Bring a large pan of your stock to the boil and then put your tortellini in, leaving for 4-5 minutes. Serve in bowls with ladles of the broth poured over the top, and grate some Parmigiano-Reggiano over the top to finish.

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Christmas Around The World: Italy was published on 9 December 2019