Each country has its own special traditions for this holidays and in Italy, we also have particular things we do by this time of the year.
So how do we Italians celebrate this season?
First of all as we mention on the last blog, Christmas decorations start on December 8th (though too many families like IOAB crew start before) cause this day we have the Feast of the Immaculate Conception so for Christian’s is an important day to commemorate the day that the Virgin Mary was conceived without the original sin. This day is a national public holiday in Italy so children don’t go to school while many people have a free day at work.
Also, each city has it’s a very particular tradition.
It is well known for its famous cribs which now are part of the Neapolitan culture.
It started on the XIII century when Francis of Assisi asked permission to Pope Honorius III to dramatize Jesus birth on Christmas day with “real life figures”, so he first represented it in Greccio, Italy in 1223 and since then he was named Patron of Bethlehem/Nativity Scene. Franciscans went on to expand the tradition to different countries including Spain, and in the XV century, the first mud crib was created in Naples. It’s beauty made the city begin to have requests from the Spanish Kingdom ruled by Charles III, who assigned Naples the task to create a Nativity Scene to be placed in their palace. The tradition continued spreading in countries that were ruled by Spanish viceroyalty in America and now it’s a worldwide practice.
Naples seems to have an eternal Christmas considering that shops are open all year long and you can always look for your favorite crib, but to be honest, on December Via San Gregorio (street of the Nativity Scene makers) has thousands of tourists admiring them. Though you not only find cribs with Christmas subjects; Pizza makers have also become part of the cast and now you can find small detailed copies of pizzerias, fruit markets, all household objects, gastronomic delights, exotic animals, and sometimes even caricatured politicians and football players.
MANAROLA’S WORLD BIGGEST CRIB
Though Naples is not the only Italian city that’s famous for its cribs.
Have you ever heard about The Famous Crib of Manarola?
Italy has another city that’s well known for this amazing practice and this time it has nothing to do with the word small, cause actually in this place which is one of the amazing Cinque Terre also known as Five Lands, you can find the largest crib in the world.
It’s illuminated on every 8th December and it’s been like this since fifty-three years ago when Mario Andreoli was asked by his dad to replace the cross located on the family hill. He did it and then he illuminated it with a car battery. He thought it looked wonderful and that gave him the amazing idea of the illuminated crib. Today every year on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, Andreoli who’s now 90 years old, flips the switch that illuminates the Hill of the Three Crosses dotted and allow habitats and visitors to admire the Nativity Scene composed by 250 figures, covered by 15,000 light bulbs.
In some countries the big dinner is done the 24th but in Italy what we usually do is going to the mass that day at night or in the next morning and the 25th we do the big dinner with the family.
There’s a saying that goes:
“Natale con i tuoi, capodanno con chi vuoi” which means: Christmas with your family, Eastern with whom you choose.
So the 31st even if we have dinner with the family, we usually go out somewhere else with our friends.
The Epiphany in Italy is a little different from the rest of the countries. Usually, the Three Wise Kings arrive on the night of January 6th and leave the presents to be opened the 7th. But in Italy, there’s a different character that comes to our country.
First of all is a woman, but not a simple one. She’s an old witch. Yes, you’ve read well… A witch called “La Befana” or “The Witch of Christmas”.
The story goes back to the birth of Jesus Christ. When the Three Wise Men where on their way to see the new-born guided by a star crossing many countries. They stopped by this women to receive some food water and when they asked her to join them, she claimed to be too busy and that she would join later. The next day when she wanted to join them, it was too late and she never found them but still, she goes out every year on her broomstick to give gifts to the good children of Italy.
ITALIAN CHRISTMAS DISHES
You’ve read already about Italian custom ways to celebrate Christmas. But what about food? Even though Italians cuisine it’s quite important (and delicious) we don’t have a specific rule of what dishes to eat in Christmas since it’s a country made of 20 regions. So it changes on each one.
Still, we can tell that fish gets quite common. There’s one tradition followed by Italian-American families that are called “La Festa dei Sette Pesci” or “The Feast of the Seven Fishes”. So it basically consists of 7 courses. Each plate needs to have a seafood ingredient. Most common one’s codfish, fried calamari mussels, and shrimp. And of course, we mix them with tomato, pasta, cheese and all kind of ingredients that characterize our Italian taste.
But at the end of the day families always go back to la ricetta della nona or grandma’s recipe.
Last but not least… desserts.
No matter which Italian region you decide to celebrate, the sweet treats are the same for Christmas. Other than the typical biscotti or cookies, we have:
Torrone, a traditional Christmas nougat candy dessert that has toasted almonds, and today many varieties exist: soft and hard, classic or with chocolate, with almonds, hazelnuts or occasionally pistachios. It is often served with sambuca (a sweet anise-tasting digestive), or a liquor, such as Strega. Or you can just enjoy it with good coffee.
Panettone, an Italian Christmas Cake from Milan, is a delicious bread not so easy to cook since it’s several hours to be cooked because it’s cake dough requires several hours to make because of its height that must be reached when levitating. The sweet, yeasty treat has a distinctive domed shape. Panettone is often compared to fruitcakes because both are traditionally made with raisins and candied fruits.
Pandoro is a Christmas cake originally from Verona. Though it’s quite similar to Panettone, this one has a bright yellow color since Pandoro means golden bread. It is traditionally a star-shaped cake that is dusted with powdered sugar and it has the same difficulty regarding the height of the cake. Both are quite tall and spongy.
So it is said that once you can bake one of this to bread, you can bake anything.
Well as you can see Italy is a country full of traditions. What are you waiting to come and live an Italian Christmas?