IT’S THE most wonderful time of the year, but have you ever stopped to think about what Christmas is like around the world?

In Australia, Christmas is celebrated during summer. In Jamaica, many people will paint their houses and hang new curtains for the festive period.

In Mexico they will have Posada parties where they smash up piñatas, usually shaped like a ball with seven spikes coming off it to represent each of the seven deadly sins.

In Italy they observe some of the same traditions that we do here in the UK.

The tradition of Babbo Natale (Santa Claus) bringing presents is increasing in popularity in recent years, but the main day for gift giving is Epiphany on January 6 - the 12th day of Christmas when the three Wise Men gave baby Jesus their gifts.

Presents are brought by La Befana, a benevolent old woman with a fascinating story.

It is said that the three wise men stopped by La Befana’s house to ask for directions on their way to find baby Jesus. She declined their invitation to join them, almost immediately changing her mind but it was too late.

In depictions of La Befana, she appears to be a witch who flies around on a broomstick delivering presents to children – nothing like old St Nicholas, whose remains, incidentally, are located on a silver altar in a crypt under the Basilica di San Nicola in Bari; not a story you want to tell your kids.

Many Italian festive traditions, as is the case here in the UK, are centred around food and one of the main ones is eating fish on Christmas Eve.

Serving fish on Christmas Eve is a Catholic tradition. Catholics are expected to abstain from eating meat, dairy or any other products that come from animals on holy days, which makes fish a popular choice.

Seafood can be so versatile that it can be hard to know where to start when cooking it for yourself.

Perhaps that’s why in some parts of southern Italy and, particularly amongst Italian Americans, families celebrate Esta dei Sette Pesci – which translates as The Feast of Seven Fishes. During this feast families will dine on seven courses, featuring different fishes and other seafood.

One of the most popular seafood dishes in Italy – particularly in the south - is baccalà, which is salted cod. Baccalà is a favourite, served on Fridays and Christmas Eve when Catholics abstain from eating meat.

To make the most of your dish there are certain things you can look out for to make sure you get the best cod possible to work with.

When choosing a piece of cod, it is best to go for the whitest meat possible, with very light coloured skin - avoid meat with a hint of yellow. If you’re buying a whole fish, try to buy one that is long and thick – ideally more than one inch thick in the middle of the fillet.

The recipe I have chosen to share with you is Baccalà alla Vesuviana -- salted cod with tomatoes and capers.

You can make this recipe with regular cod, but I’ve included instructions for how to work with salted cod too.

Salted cod needs to be soaked in water – ideally for a couple of days before cooking – to neutralise the excess saltiness.