CHRISTMAS is a time for tradition, and while these traditions may vary from family to family they form the basis of how we spend the festive holidays.

Most families will know what their Christmas Eve looks like. Some will always eat the same foods, others will always watch the same festive movie (and of those people, some will always watch It’s a Wonderful Life whereas others will opt for Die Hard), some people will be fully prepared for the big day with their kids tucked up in bed waiting for Santa Claus to arrive, others will be panicking wrapping presents into the small hours.

And then there are those who will be out having fun, seeing the big day in with a drink, screaming Christmas songs at the top of their voices.

Whatever your Christmas traditions are, they are yours - and they may have even been your parents’ before that.

In Italy, Christmas looks a little different to what it looks like here in the UK, which is mostly down to a handful of cultural issues.

Some of the differences are to be expected while others may surprise you. For example, did you know that Italians play the bagpipes at Christmas time?

They don’t resemble the Scottish ones in appearance and there are no kilts in sight, but In southern Italy and Rome, bagpipe-playing shepherds, or zampognari as they are known locally, perform music in piazzas, usually dressed in traditional sheepskin and wool cloaks.

Another surprising festive tradition in Italy is playing bingo. Yes, across the country, though again, particularly in the south, it’s very common to play tombola, an Italian game which is very similar to bingo, throughout the festive period.

Then we have La Befana, who has always traditionally given Italian children their presents (although Santa Claus as we know him here in the UK is growing in popularity now).

With Italy being a religious country, the tale of La Befana is a religious one. As the story goes, she is an old woman who brings gifts on Epiphany Eve. Legend has it the Three Wise Men came to her house and invited her to join their search for Christ.

Apparently she was too busy with her housework to go with them but later changed her mind, so to this day she is still searching for the child, leaving presents for good children along her way.

Although described as an old lady, if you search for pictures of La Befana you’re likely to see images of a witch - more like something you would expect to see on Halloween here in the UK. In the most Italian way, La Befana likes to be left a glass of while to knock back while she’s delivering presents.

Another way that Catholicism has an impact on Christmas in Italy is how it affects what foods are eaten. To prepare and purify their bodies for Christmas Day, Italians avoid eating meat on la Vigilia (Christmas Eve).

Although the idea is to eat lean, many Italians tend to opt for first dishes, consuming multiple fish courses.

This month, so you can celebrate Christmas Italian style, I am sharing with you a recipe for seafood risotto. Enjoy it on Christmas Eve with a glass of wine - well, if it’s good enough for La Befana...

Seafood Risotto



450g/1lb prawns, shell on

36 small mussels

100g/4oz monkfish fillet, thinly sliced

50g/2oz squid, cleaned and thinly sliced

For the stock

25ml olive oil

1 garlic clove, chopped

1 medium carrot, chopped

1 celery stick, chopped

1 small onion, chopped

1 small leek, chopped

1⁄4 red chilli, chopped

1 tomato, chopped

1/8 tsp

900ml fish stock

For the risotto

50g unsalted butter

2 shallots, chopped

1 garlic clove, chopped

350g Arborio rice

120ml dry white wine

25g parmesan

1 tbsp olive oil


1. Peel the prawns, keeping the shells to one side for the stock. Set the prawns aside to use later. Wash your mussels, scrape them clean and pull out the beards. To open them, place in a pan with a splash of water, cover tightly and place on a high heat until the shells open. Strain through a colander and keep the liquid for the stock. Remove the meat and discard the empty shells.

2. Next, make the stock. Heat the oil in a large pan, add the garlic, carrot, celery, leek, onion and chilli. Fry for five minutes before adding the prawn shells. Cook for a couple of minutes then add the tomato, fish stock and mussels liquid. Bring to the boil and leave to simmer for 30 minutes. Push the mixture through a conical sieve to get your stock.

3. To make your risotto, melt the butter in a large pan. Add the shallots and the garlic and cook until softened. Add the rice and stir. Pour in the wine before bringing to the boil, then remove the pan from the heat while the rice absorbs the liquid.

4. Return the pan to the heat and add the stock to the rice a third at a time, allowing the rice to absorb the liquid before adding more. Stir continuously until the liquid is almost completely absorbed.

5. When your rice is tender add the parmesan cheese. While the risotto is cooking, brush the rest of the seafood with olive oil and grill for three to four minutes. When thoroughly cooked, mix the seafood into the risotto and serve.