In Naples, Christmas is the celebration of family and, above all, culinary delicacies. In South Italy and especially in Napoli the traditional Christmas menu has a great importance.
Traditionally, people are not allowed to eat meat on December 24. The traditional dinner, Christmas Eve dinner (Cena della Vigilia or Cenone di Natale) in Naples consists of spaghetti e vongole (spaghetti with clams), Capitone e Baccalà fritto (fried eel and dried cod), Insalata di rinforzo with marinated vegetables and cauliflower, and for dessert roccocò (a pastry with almonds), paste reali, susamielli, and mustacciuoli.
Following dinner, many families visit the midnight mass at church. The Jesus figurine isn’t placed in the traditional Christmas crib until the night from December 24 to December 25.
In the early afternoon on December 25, the most important Christmas day, people have the so-called Pranzo di Natale (Christmas meal).The Neapolitan Christmas menu starts with Minestra maritata (chicken soup with vegetables), followed by a pasta dish like, for example, Maccheroni al ragout, Canelloni, or Tortellini. The Minestra is a typical Neapolitan Christmas meal.
The second main dish is the cooked chicken, which was used to prepare the soup. Contorno is Broccoli di Natale, a kind of leafy broccoli, which you can only find at the Gulf of Naples.
For dessert, people enjoy Struffoli, a colourfully decorated pastry made from many small fried dough balls, accompanied by a glass of liqueur like Limoncello.
In the evening, people celebrate the end of the day with Spumante and a piece of Panettone or Pandoro. Panettone isn’t a typical Neapolitan Christmas pastry; it is from the North of Italy, but all its varieties (for example, with almonds or filled with chocolate) are very popular in Naples as well.
After the meal, it is time to open the presents
In the days before Christmas, they have been placed under the tree one by one, which is especially exciting for the children. The presents are brought by Babbo Natale, Father Christmas. It wasn’t so long ago, however, that the presents were brought on January 6 by Befana. Befana is an old, ugly woman on a broom who, till today, fills the children’s socks with candy or (edible) coal in the night of January 6.
There is no specific Christmas meal on December 26 (Prima festa), but people cook big meals all the same. Following a pasta dish is fish or meat, and, like the previous day, people have Contorni (broccoli and Insalata di rinforzo) as well as the desserts Struffoli and Roccoco.