We’re back with part 2 of “12 Countries of 12 Days of Christmas”! We’re learning about Christmas in Italy today from our great friend Elisabetta, who we met during our month in Florence. Besides being a full-blooded Italian, she is also a world-class Sommelier and hosts equally world-class Italian Food Tours in the very heart of the country (check out FlavourfulTuscany.com). Without further ado…
What is a typical Christmas in Italy like?
Christmas traditions in Italy are hard to generalize, because of the dissimilarity of our regions. Italy is a kaleidoscope of cultures and foreign influences. There are, however, some main facts that remains the same everywhere.
The “official” beginning of Christmas season is the feast of Immaculate Conception, December 8. It’s a national holiday and people start decorating streets and houses with lights, Albero di Natale (Christmas tree) and presepio (the nativity scene)… the little Christmas local markets open and people start going shopping.
It is the main Italian holiday and it is the celebration of the family (in it’s widest meaning: from parents to distant relatives). I think it’s kind of like your Thanksgiving day!
Christmas is children-centric: the time of Babbo Natale (Father Christmas) and of the letters that children write asking for gifts. There are different characters who bring gifts: I Re Magi (the Magi), the St. Lucy in some regions of the North of Italy, St. Nicholas in some of the South… As for us in Tuscany, it’s Father Christmas 🙂 The gifts are placed under the Christmas Tree and the children don’t unwrap them until the morning of Christmas day.
It is the time of Christmas songs: the classic ones like “Adeste Fideles”, “Silent Night”, “Jingle Bells” to “Santa Claus is Coming to Town”, and the regional ones sung in the original regional dialect, often played with bagpipes.
Sometimes people gather for the dinner of Christmas Eve (mostly in the South) and then head to the midnight Mass. Somewhere else people gather for the lunch of the 25th. Everywhere in Italy you’ll find the tradition of meat abstinence on the day of the 24th.
What foods/meals are a part of the holiday season?
Pasta in brodo (pasta in broth), Cappone (capon), Arrosti (roasts), Panettone, Pandoro, Torrone e Panforte (sweet bread desserts and the senese pastry you know).
What are some traditions in your own family?
My family gathers for the lunch of the 25th: in the past we were about 20 people all together, nowadays I usually celebrate with my parents and some cousins.
Personally I’ve lost most of the common traditions, I prefer to pay more attention to the Christian meaning of this Holy Day and take some time for soul and for others. I follow the tradition of the midnight Mass (or the Shepherd’s Mass) and then I enjoy fixing and having lunch with my dear ones. Not many gifts–I’m not a great fan of the massive Christmas gift exchanges lately, maybe I’m getting old–but just a few for the closest friends and for parents.