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Similar to France, Italians celebrate Christmas with their biggest spread on the eve of the big day. Luca Finardi, the general manager of the Mandarin Oriental Milan, says that locals usually attend midnight Mass and enjoy a sumptuous meal before heading to church.

Smoked salmon with buttered crostini or a smoked salted cod is the precursor to the main meal. Italians from coastal areas such as the Amalfi Coast may start with a crudo such as sea bass with herbs and sea salt, says Finardi.

Next up is tortellini in brodo — stuffed pasta bathed in a hot broth of chicken and parmesan cheese — the latter of which must come from the namesake region in Italy.

Tortellini in brodo

Tortellini in brodo is part of many an Italian Christmas Eve spread.

For the main meal, northern Italians tend to have stuffed turkey while those from seaside areas may tuck into a large baked sea bass surrounded by roasted potatoes and vegetables.

"The must no matter where you're from is panettone — a typical sweet bread," says Finardi. "The secret is to warm it up for just a few minutes." Spumante, a sparkling wine, is the drink of choice.

As for the famous Italian Christmas meal of the feast of the seven fishes, Finardi says it's limited mainly to the Campania region, which includes the Amalfi Coast and Naples.

Christmas Day is more about connecting with family and less about food, Finardi says. "We eat leftovers and recover from the day before."

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