Christmas in Calabria: traditional Christmas Eve dishes

In Calabria, there are 13 foods that must be eaten on the evening of 24 December, 13 courses like the number of the Apostles with Jesus, but they can also be 9, like the months of waiting, or 7 like the virtues, but always strictly based on vegetables and preserved or fresh fish.

Don't expect light, low-calorie food, because this is the time when the sacred Calabrian fried foods really reach the peak of deliciousness and must be eaten out of devotion.

The tradition included: olives, dried tomatoes, giardiniera, pasta with breadcrumbs, fried cod, stewed cod with potatoes, black broccoli, white broccoli, fennel, walnuts, chestnuts, mandarins and crespelle. Bread and wine are excluded from the count.

Christmas Eve dinner in peasant Calabria in the past was more important than Christmas lunch, it was the magical moment when the family gathered to welcome the Holy Child and for which they worked hard all year round.

Over time, this dinner has been enriched with variations and more elaborate dishes, but it is still a ritual in which the various preparations of typical dishes continue to represent the ancient link between the sacred and the profane and to offer the sense of a festival that celebrates the birth of God, and therefore of life and the family.

Even now, in the South, Christmas means family; it is the only day of the year when returning home is a must for the countless Calabrians scattered around the world and, if that is not possible, at least a good Calabrian dinner is prepared.

Other traditions of 24 December, although somewhat disused, are not to clear the table after dinner, because food is left for the baby Jesus who is coming. If you make crespelle, you have to make one in the shape of a child for good luck, and home-made bread also takes on special braid and crown shapes.