Experience A Spectacular Christmas In ItalyReading Time: 5 minutes
Christmas is indeed a special time and a special season: The cold weather brings people together, families together, friends together. Santa Claus appears with his striking red ensemble, carrying gifts; the city streets are dressed up in pretty, bright lights; and the large Christmas tress bedecked with decorations and sparkling illuminations are just a joy to watch.
It is no surprise that this holiday season is a favourite.
In Italy, Christmas truly comes alive with a magical touch.
Month Long Celebrations
As soon as November fades to December, the entire country wakes up to the season of joy, happiness and sharing. The generous spirit that Christmas ignites can well and truly be felt in the cities, towns and villages. People are infused with an energy to dust off the mundane and boring and bring in the cheer. Nothing is more symbolic of this feeling than the Babbo Natale offering candies to children.
The joyous celebrations kick off with the Day Of Immaculate Conception, on December 8th. The day is focused on families strengthening their bond by decorating the house, cooking together, and baking some wonderful treats. With all the cooking, the air smells rich with the holiday season. This kickstarts the month-long celebration that only gets bigger.
The streets overflow with the festive spirit in the form of the beautiful pine trees that are decked with colour and light. The traditional Nativity scene features in front of the tree, modelled with great detail.
But the one remarkable feature of this period has got to be the ‘Christmas smell’. With just about everyone, including bakeries, restaurants and families indulging in the seasonal treats, the aroma wafts around you as you walk along the streets, inviting you to be a part of the greater connection that we all feel. This rich aroma consists of spiced Italian delicacies, chestnuts, and mulled wine, to name a few.
Christmas Is Here
The birth of Christ and the eve of the birth (Vigilia di Natale) present a unique cultural experience in Italy. The reason being that both days are celebrated in different traditions, depending on which part of the country you find yourself in. Food again plays a central part in the celebration: Some have a delicious feast the night before, while others prefer to eat light – even avoiding meat – and then indulge in a big Christmas lunch. The one tradition that is a constant from the North to the South of Italy is the Midnight Mass at the local church.
After the mass, the festivities begin in true earnest. Toasts are raised with a glass of spumante, a slice of panettone, and pandoro. Children, excitedly expecting Santa, keep a glass of milk accompanied with nuts and a slice of cake to thank Babbo Natale for the gifts he brings.
December 25th is family day – marked for get togethers over home cooked feasts and fun and games. The lunch is an important occasion to catch up with the family and partake in the food prepared. Then the members indulge in board games or other indoor activities.
The celebrations continue from Christmas Day up until New Year’s Eve on the 31st of December. Capodanno begins late in the afternoon with the famous aperitivo celebratory drinks, which is then followed by the cenone – a traditional big meal. Come night time, everyone gears up to bring in the New Year with more food, music, and plenty of dancing. But it does not stop with dawn of the 1st of January. The festivities begin again on New Year’s Day as people get together for a traditional feast.
It may surprise you to know that the celebrations are truly not over until the 6th of January, Epiphany day (giorno della Befana). The cultural significance of the day is associated with a witch who arrives on a broomstick at the dead of night, bringing sweets and chocolates for the good children, and a lump of coal for the ‘naughty’ kids. The lump of coal is actually liquorice-flavoured black sugar.
The Rich Tradition Of Food And Festivities
Food and festivities go hand in hand in Italy. And nothing is a better proof of the sentiment than the Christmas delicacies that everyone indulges in. From antipasti to dessert, and from breakfast to dinner, the traditional delicacies always find a place on the table and in people’s stomachs.
Christmas Day serves as a perfect example.
The day begins with a tempting array of entrees: insalata di mare (seafood salad), salmone or tonno (fresh salmon or tuna fish), gamberetti in salsa rosa (shrimps with cocktail sauce), salumi and cured meats. Then you move on to the main lunch, portata, which usually consists of the delectable tortellini in broth, lasagne, or pasticcio. The recipes remain the same as the grandmothers used to make. To sweeten the palate at the end of the grand feast, pandoro and panettone are served. While the former hails from Verona, the latter has its roots in the region of Lombardy.
Sweets and everything chocolate play a central role in the Christmas cuisine: torrone (classic Italian nougat), local chocolate, as well as homemade cookies such as baci di Dama and the hazelnut biscuits that are a specialty of Turin.
The final feast of the year takes place on New Year’s Eve where you will find cotechino (a fresh pork sausage), lenticchie (lentils), and uva (grapes). These foods are supposed to bring good luck in the coming year.
No Italian festivity or celebration is ever complete without wines. And the people are certainly blessed to indulge in some of the finest available in the world. The Christmas feast is traditionally accompanied with Brunello di Montalcino or Super Tuscan red (Biondi Santi or San Polo). White wine lovers can call upon Planeta’s Chardonnay that pairs well with a variety of foods, but the best option is Piedmont’s Arneis (Castello di Neive or Ceretto).
Wine connoisseurs can indulge in the perfect cin cin with sparkling wines such as the Franciacorta (Bellavista, Ca’ del Bosco, or Ricci Curbastro) or Ferrari Trento DOC.
Christmas In Italy
Italy is a special place to visit any time of the year; however, during the holiday season, the country lights up like a bride on her wedding day. Wherever you go, you will be greeted with Christmas décor, holiday markets, boutique stalls, delicious regional delicacies, and the irresistible vin brule’ (mulled wine) to get you in the proper celebratory mood.
One of the best places to experience the festivities is in Bolzano located the Trentino-Alto Adige region. Here you can witness the old world charm of traditional wooden huts that dot the town. Another great option is the medieval town of Bressanone in the Veneto region. For a more immersive cultural experience, visit Cortina and Belluno. Both towns are decorated with beautiful wooden stands that exhibit regional products and signature handicrafts.
The cities come alive with a charm of their own during Christmas and New Year. The legendary city squares are bedecked with sparkling lights, Christmas trees, and topped up with enchanting melodies of the singing carousels.
The South of Italy, the country’s boot, offers a slightly different, albeit warmer climate to experience the holiday season. The towns of Molise and Abruzzo have bagpipe players who arrive in unique costumes to serenade the locals with carols and other traditional songs. Campania, the cradle of presepe or Nativity Scenes, bestows Naples with boutique handicraft shops, the most famous of which is famous Giuseppe Ferrignos’s Laboratory. The shop displays signature figurines like the pizzaioli and the bagpipers. Another southern region, Sicily, will impress you with distinctive traditions and festivities.
If you are looking to get away from the maddening crowd, you can always head to spectacular mountain resorts of Italy. The mountain regions are rich with local delicacies, among which is Bombardino, or eggnog. You can also indulge in unique traditions such as the Fiaccolate degli sciatori, where you ski downhill on a full moon night with a flaming torch in hand. The resorts will certainly pamper you as well with famous Spas such as the Bagni vecchi di Bormio Spa Resort located in Lombardy, or the Terme Merano nestled in Alto Adige.
Don’t Forget New Year’s Eve
Once the festivities and celebrations of Christmas quieten, Italy comes alive again on New Year’s Eve. If the birth of Christ is an occasion for families to get together and celebrate tradition, the end of the year presents a perfect opportunity to celebrate with friends. The options are virtually limitless: Barbeques, discotheques, restaurants, ski resorts in the Alps and many, many more.
One thing is certain, the beginning of a new year will certainly be a memorable one.