Dinner on Christmas Eve (the Vigilia) is yet another delicious one! It reunites families around an abundance of home made foods that are describes as "al magro" (light and healthy). This Cenone della Vigilia is meant to be lean and clean by only using ingredients from the sea and the available vegetables and fruits of the season. No land meats are ever consumed on Christmas Eve (that's reserved for Christmas Day!).
It usually starts with antipasti of many kinds such as varieties of olives, anchovies, other marinated fish and a fish broth. The starters are followed by a first course of pasta with a simple tomato sauce flavored with tuna (believe me, its delicious!), a second course of steamed or sautéed cod in olive oil, pine nuts and capers, along with sides of fried vegetables (the famous Roman fritto misto). For dessert there is always a Torrone or two, to be enjoyed slowly with a bit of espresso.
Traditionally, fish markets came alive starting on December 23rd to December 24th during the day, just in time for the Cenone. The fish markets of Rome offered the freshest fish, hauled in from the nearby seaport that same day. Below is an antique depiction of a Roman fish market (or cottio) in Piazza Della Rotonda (Pantheon) in Rome. Markets were lively and colorful and filled with excitement, especially around this holiday time of year. View a short video from one of Rome's fish markets on Christmas Eve from 1958 here!