Italian Christmas Traditions – Guest Post
In the past 6 years I have lived in London, I have come to learn a lot of British Christmas tradition. As soon as Halloween is behind us, the shops are full of turkey, cranberry sauce and pigs in blanket. I learnt about Christmas crackers in primary school, and I’ve ever since wanted to open one: now I’ve had my fair share of paper crowns and silly jokes. I see my friends preparing a drunk cake in the weeks before Christmas, and I love going to a carol service in some of the best musical churches of London.
Every Christian country does Christmas in a special way, and majority Catholic Italy is the same. I was born and raised in the frontier area between Italy and Switzerland, so I have observed traditions of both countries (St Nicholas Day means double celebrations!), but as Canton Ticino has a significant population of Italian immigrants it tends to be more like Italy than the north of the country, so today I’ll talk to you about Christmas in Italy.
Every region of Italy does things a slightly different way, but being a Catholic country we still retain some traditions that relates to the old observances of the liturgical calendar, like for example eating fish at the vigil feast waiting for Midnight Mass.
Advent is a time of penance in the liturgical year, just like Lent, and it used to be marked in the same way: with abstinence from meat. The dishes we eat at dinner nowadays are very rich and elaborate, and often coming in many courses (13 in Calabria) but it’s traditional that they are still a fish feast.
We also don’t put up Christmas decorations until the 8th of December, which is the feast of the Immaculate Conception, and we remove them on the 6th of January, which is the day of the Epiphany and the last of the 12 days of Christmas. One of such decorations is the nativity scene, which is usually made with the Three Wise Men starting far away and approaching on this very feast, whereas the Baby Jesus is laid in the manger after the Midnight Mass at Christmas. Some towns have very elaborate live Nativity scenes too, especially in Central Italy where part of their tradition is, not unlike Scotland, playing the bagpipes, which are associated with their rural and pastoral heritage: the shepherds are key figures of the Christmas story.
Food is central to an Italian Christmas everywhere you go, but the region of Campania is probably the one with the biggest number of traditional Christmas food.
From “Insalata di Rinforzo” (a salad with cauliflower and cod) or “Capitone” (eel), to the desserts like struffoli (tiny balls of fried dough put together in a crown and covered in honey), every dish has a legend or two attached, and a family recipe going back generations. However the north of the country had contributed to the culinary traditions with two well-known and much loved desserts: “il panettone di Milano”, and “il pandoro di Verona”. The former is traditionally thought to derive his name from a baker named Toni (short for Antonio) who decided to enrich bread dough with butter, egg, sugar, raisins and candied fruit. Pandoro is also a rich bread, shaped as an 8 points star and covered in icing sugar like a snowy mountain since Domenico Melegatti made the recipe for mass production in the late 19th century that is still used today.
Thanks so much to Alessia for writing this post for me if you want to go check out her blog you can do that right here
You can also check out Day 4 from blogmas last year right here