Italian Food in Italy and Italian American Food (and Traditions) for the Holidays

imageI’ve been corresponding with Gian Carlo Macchi who’s from Italy about foods eaten for Christmas and Santa Lucia in Italy and how they differ from food eaten by Italian Americans the US (I’m an Italian American).  We’ve also been discussing gift giving in both countries and greetings for the season.  These comparisons are interesting! 

Here’s our email conversation…


Do you get together with your family for Santa Lucia?

Gian Carlo:

Yes, with my son and my brother.  Here usually people celebrate with their family. An old proverb says: "Natale con i tuoi e Pasqua con chi vuoi", i.e. Christmas with your family and Easter with whoever.


We’ll celebrate on Christmas day with a special meal.  We usually make Italian American food in my family.  Some Italian Americans have a seafood feast on Christmas Eve.

Gian Carlo:

In my family we usually eat salt meat, risotto, other food (not always the same) and panettone (sometimes pandoro). Sometimes mascarpone cheese with sugar and rum.

I’m curious… What is Italian American food?


What I think is Italian American (you can let me know if you eat this type of food) is food like…

Eggplant Parmesan –we cook the eggplant in slices – dipped first in egg and then breadcrumbs and fry or bake the slices.  Then in a baking dish, we put a layer of tomato sauce, then a slice of eggplant, then a slice of mozzarella and then we repeat… making a stack of 4 or 5 slices of eggplant like this and then bake it.

We also make stuff like Baked Ziti.  The way we make it is  – first, you cook the ziti… then in a baking pan you put a layer of sauce, then a layer of ziti, then a layer of a cheese mixture (consisting of ricotta, mozzarella cubes, eggs, parmesan and herbs). The next layer is ziti first, then sauce and then the cheese mixture.  You repeat the layers and bake it.  We have many variations of dishes like this.  Do you eat anything like that?

When I visited Italy way back, I remember having more dishes like spaghetti and clam sauce.

Gian Carlo:

Yes, we eat this (or similar) food, named "melanzane alla parmigiana", where the word parmigiana does not refer to parmesan cheese, but, according to some people, means "as people living in Parma do", i.e. with layers of vegetables; according to other people it comes from a Sicilian word meaning shutter, that makes you think of the slices; according to other people it comes from a Turkish word meaning… eggplant.

Of course also the name of parmesan cheese comes from Parma.

Here we don’t cook this food [like baked ziti]. It seems to me to be a Sicilian food and, since it seems very good, I’ll try to cook it.

We have hundreds of ways to cook spaghetti, and in general pasta; and rice too. For example today I ate spaghetti all’amatriciana (this name comes from Amatrice, a village in Lazio region) and (this evening) risotto alla milanese (the name of course comes from Milan, here in Lombardy).


We also exchange gifts.  Well, Santa leaves them out beneath the Christmas tree in the middle of the night for the kids to open on the 25th.

Gian Carlo:

Santa is Santa Claus, I suppose. Here the same, but gifts can be left by Babbo Natale (Santa Claus, but literally Father Christmas, as Père Noël in France) or by Gesù Bambino (Child Jesus).


Do you say something like "Happy Santa Lucia" for the holiday?  We say Merry Christmas if we know the people celebrate.  Otherwise, we say Happy Holidays… this is particularly important in the U.S. where there are people of so many different religious and ethnic backgrounds.

Gian Carlo:

We don’t say "Happy Santa Lucia". We say "Buon Natale" (Merry Christmas, but literally Good Christmas). We also say  "Buone Feste" (Happy Holidays, but literally Good Holidays) and, in this case, we refer to all (holi)days near Christmas (until Epiphany). We also say "Buon Natale e Felice Anno Nuovo" (Merry [good] Christmas and Happy New Year).

Ciao e Buon Natale -Gian Carlo


Thanks for sharing with us traditions in Italy around December and January!

Buone Feste!

Mama Lisa

This article was posted on Sunday, December 18th, 2011 at 8:39 pm and is filed under Christmas, Christmas Eve Traditions, Christmas Recipes, Countries & Cultures, Cuisine, Customs and Traditions, Greeting Customs, Holiday Recipes, Holidays Around the World, Italian, Italian American, Italian American Cuisine, Italian Cuisine, Italy, Languages, Recipes of the World, Santa Lucia, USA, Words & Phrases, World Culture. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

One Response to “Italian Food in Italy and Italian American Food (and Traditions) for the Holidays”

  1. Ayako Egawa Says:

    Lisa and Gian.

    It’s really interesting to see your cake.
    Enjoy cerebrating Christmas.

    In Japan, Common Christmas cakes look very different. But we can make or
    buy this kind of fruits cake too.

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