An Italian Traditional Christmas Eve Dinner!






By Jacqueline Kelly

The first Vigilia dinner I remember was Christmas 1968. It was at my Grandparent’s house in South Philadelphia and the whole family was there; too many people in a tiny row home, but it was fun! The tables began in the kitchen (kids table) and spanned the whole first floor. There were also playpens, plastic-covered sofa, a 3D framed picture of a gondolier on a Venetian canal and a wooden TV/radio credenza. It didn’t matter how many young people were in the house the choice of music was always Grandpop’s,who always played his accordion. O Sole Mio, Ti Voglio Bene Asai were standards, and he always played Tarantella so Nonna (Italian for Grandmother) would get up and dance. So many great memories of dancing and eating with my family – but, let’s not forget about the food, The 7 fishes.

Our traditional menu for La Vigilia consisted of: Fried dough stuffed with anchovies, eels/snails with garlic and olive oil, fried smelts, steamed clams/mussels with garlic, tomatoes and parsley, bacala, either batter dipped and fried or with tomatoes and onions, and fried Calamari. Of course, there was always pasta served with anchovies, garlic and olive oil. Lots of veggies too, like cabbage aglio olio, white beans with celery aglio olio, and let’s not forget the Italian wine spritzer, which consisted of homemade red wine and 7up.

Decades have passed, things are a little different. We still gather at Nonna’s home in South Philly, except now the Nonna is my Mother and I am a mother. We are a much smaller group, my mom, my brother and his wife, their children, my husband and our beautiful children. We talk about great memories from previous Christmas Eves. Some friends still keep up with the tradition of stopping by to visit on Christmas Eve. We laugh, share stories and eat! After all, we are Italian and it’s always about family, friends, and the food! The menu has not changed, but we add new dishes every year like crab cakes, clams and spaghetti, hot crab dip, fried shrimp, shrimp cocktail and lobster tails!

What I have learned is the size of your family doesn’t matter; the important thing is you all get together at least once a year, celebrate, and keep family traditions alive. Share old family/friend memories, and create new ones. Buon Natale from our famiglia to yours.
Cheers! Chef Jacquie.

About the Author: Trained at the prestigious Restaurant School at Walnut Hill College in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Chef Jacquie, is a professional chef dedicated to providing her clients with the ultimate authentic culinary experience. Learn more about Chef Jacquie and her cooking at
or travel with Chef Jacquie


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