Celebrating Christmas in Calabria: Il Cenone

As I’ve mentioned over the last few weeks, I’m missing my traditional Texas-style Christmas this year and will be celebrating a Calabrian Christmas for the first time since moving to the bel paese. A few years ago I wrote a four-part series on Calabrian Christmas traditions and since I’m most looking forward to Il Cenone … the traditional Christmas Eve Dinner … , I’m pulling that post from the archives.

 
So pull up your chair, tie on your napkin and get ready to indulge … oh, and thanks for stopping by.

(originally posted, December 2008)

***

As in other parts of Italy, food plays a starring role in a Calabrian Christmas. You won’t find turkey or gravy passed around these tables, but like in the US, there will be more than enough homemade food and holiday cheer to go around.
 
Calabrians love celebrating with their cuisine and there is no shortage of generosity when it comes to commemorating their Savior’s birth. As with other holidays – or typical Sundays – you can expect a multi-course meal that might begin with an aperitivo and antipasto, followed with primi (first plates), secondi (second plates), side items, fruit, desserts and coffee.

Oh, and lots of wine.
 
Aperitivi and antipasto both translate into English as appetizers. Confused with why Italians would offer two types of appetizers at their formal meals? Yea, I am, too. But aperitivi is either an alcoholic or non-alcoholic drink that is served with small finger foods as guests arrive, while antipasto is the appetizer dish that is formally served after everyone is seated.
 
The typical Calabrian Christmas Eve meal … or Cenone, as it is often called, is based on seafood, so appetizers would likely include a variety of lightly fried seafood critters, a seafood salad and an assortment of cheese and olives. Here is a recipe for fried baccalà and broccoli.
 
The primi plate, or the official first round, is either a pasta or risotto dish, so think spaghetti with clams or mussels.
 
Secondi plates are served after the pasta dish and are normally either grilled or fried seafood, potatoes or a salad. No Christmas Eve dinner is complete without sauteed broccoli rape.
 
Seasonal fruit is served before dessert and coffee. Typical Christmas Eve dessert dishes are panforte, which is similar to an American fruit cake, panettone, which come in a variety of flavors and torrone, a hard candy typical of the holiday season.

You can check out the entire series here, with Celebrating Christmas in Italy, The Feast of the Immacolata and Southern Italian Christmas Day Traditions.

For other Christmas traditions around the world, visit the Blogsherpa Blog Carnival at Inside the Travel Lab.
  
* Please note that all of the customs and traditions I am referring to are typical of Calabria. I’m no expert on the other regions, but I hope those of you who are will chip in with your two centesimi!

Are you heading to Calabria or southern Italy? Click here to see how I can help you with your itinerary.

Photo: Tiffany Blog

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Comments

  1. Yum. One of my favorite parts, I admit, is the panettone. When Marco and I were in Piemonte in September, one day we went to Pinerolo and finished up with a stop at the factory store of Galup, a brand that covers its panettone with a crackly sugared hazelnut glaze. And I had thought there was no improving on panettone!!! mmmmm . . ..
     
    Oh that sounds delish. I wish I could find that one. YUM! Hope you can find it again this year!
     
    Kim B.’s last blog post..Where I’m Taking My Mom Next Time She Visits

  2. I agree with Kim B about the panettone, the trouble is once I start eating it I find it hard to stop. So far I have resisted the urge to buy one but the packaging is so alluring and you trip over great piles of them in almost every store! It’s tough but I’m determined to wait until Christmas eve.

    Our Italian neighbours have a huge feast of fish and seafood dishes on Christmas eve, but being English we usual save our gorging until Christmas day!
     
    Good for you. I won’t wait! lol Back home we have a nice Christmas Eve meal, but the biggie is def on Christmas Day, as well.
     
    Amanda @ A Tuscan View….’s last blog post..Something to ponder

  3. My husband’s family does a huge fish feast Christmas Eve, there are always AT LEAST several antipasti, three primi and two secondi. And the panettone of course. Everyone wants to cook his/her specialty so there are always multiple cooks. We never have the broccoli rape, though. It’s always cauliflower.
     
    Eh, you are not missing much, I think with the rape… I’m not a big fan.
     
    KC’s last blog post..Age before beauty?

  4. I have to admit that the Christmas Eve menu is my favourite (I much prefer it to Christmas day) but me and my boys prefer pandoro to panetone.
     
    I would prefer the seafood dishes, as well. Next week I have a post about the Christmas Day meal. I can’t wait to see how different it is from region to region!
     
    joanne at frutto della passione’s last blog post..And we’re off …

  5. The only think I have around the holidays that would be Italian is Panettone. I make French Toast out of it too!!!
     
    That sounds good. I would have never thought of that. ‘Course, I don’t each much French toast!!
     
    My Melange’s last blog post..Love Thursday: I *Heart* Nature

  6. Bunch of suthriners! We have different stuff.
    And I am relieved, because they always throw some slimy tentacled creatures in with the edible stuff in those seafood thingies.
     
    Yes they do. But I like ’em now. What do you have up north? I’d love to know!
     
    Judith in Umbria’s last blog post..A brief delay

  7. That is so my “Meal” but here my husband loves his Turkey Christmas dinner.

    We are going to buy a Panetone here from the Italian shop in the Oxford covered market, but we did bring back a il Pandolce Antico..http://www.pretidolciaria.it/pandolce/eng.htm..
     
    ooh, I will check out that link. I am like your hubby, though. Christmas isn’t Christmas without turkey and my grandma’s cornbread dressing!
     
    anne’s last blog post..Portofino and Sante Margherita Ligure

  8. It’s a shame we don’t do Christmas Eve dinner in Milan because it all sounds wonderful. I think I’m going to start our own family Xmas eve dinner tradition. But I have to keep it light since the hubby is on a diet. What do you suggest?
     
    Oooh… well, I don’t think I mentioned this, actually but spada (sword fish) is very popular here for the 2nd plate. I also have a great – super easy – recipe for fettuccine and mussels. Let me know if you are interested!!
     
    Milanese Masala’s last blog post..A message for Mumbai

  9. My “Pop” (grandfather) came to the US from Catanzaro in 1907 @ 12 years old- our family has always celebrated Christmas Eve dinner with the seven fishes- much to the dismay of the kids and their taste-buds! Got any good recipes for young ones?
     
    Wow! Fellow Catanzaresi … welcome. I asked my husband about menu ideas for kiddos and he was NO help! Ironically enough, I don’t know ANY southern Italians who still do the Seven Fishes tradition. My theory is Italian-Americans (like your Pop) carried the tradition with them when they immigrated and then sadly over the years, it has died down here. I’m glad you all are keeping it alive! A teenage student of mine told me they always have fried fish and shrimp … do you think the kids would like that?!?
     

  10. Last Year I spent my Christmas in Civitanova Marche. What a beautiful area. I remember the best except for too much zampone.
     
    An area I am yet to see … must get out of the south more often!!!
     

  11. I know which menu I would prefer .. The CALABRIAN menu .. and guess what??? I have just seen my old comment too 🙂 🙂

    Ha!! Love it.

  12. Thanks Cherrye – I really enjoyed reading about all the Christmas traditions down south. Out of interest – do you do anything on boxing day?

    We don’t, Abi … I am not sure if there is anything I’m missing out on, but I intend to find out! 🙂

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