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Christmas Season in Italy

Silvia di Fiore
Posted by Silvia di Fiore on Dec 5, 2022 11:00:00 PM

Christmas season starts in Italy on the 8th of December, when the country celebrates
l’Immacolata, the day of the Immaculate Conception.It is a Catholic festivity and celebrates the conception of the Virgin Mary as free from original sin and it is now a national holiday, with schools and offices closed.

Despite the religious origin of the day, modern Italy associates this day with a rather more prosaic
Christmas tradition: making the Christmas tree!

Christmas in Italy 1

I have always loved the beginning of December when the holiday vibration is perceived: in many
Italian streets decorations and huge Christmas trees are displayed, presepi (Nativity scenes) are
placed outside for all to see, and the Christmas smell, as I love to call it, of chestnuts, chimneys,
mulled wine, and Italian delicacies, is perceived on every corner…

Also, in some Italian cities, zampognari (bagpipe players) can delight you with merry songs.

Christmas in Italy 3
Each part of Italy has its own Christmas traditions and recipes, and it’s almost impossible to find
foods that are eaten nationwide! I know it sounds crazy, but trust me: every family, in every city,
in each region of the country has its own Christmas foods!

From northern to central to southern Italy, Christmas food traditions change. For example, having
a huge Christmas Eve dinner (cenone) is very popular in the south, while in northern and central
Italy, people focus mainly on having a big lunch on December 25.

However, most notably, all across Italy the Christmas Eve meal is a meat-free dinner, preferring
fish and seafood. Traditionally, Italian Christmas Eve dinner is a meat-free meal. According to an
old Catholic tradition, it’s meant to purify your body ahead of a religious celebration. So, instead of
meat, it's all about seafood.

You’ll often see marinated anchovies or tuna; baccala (codfish) served with potatoes; mussels in
broth; clams with pasta; and, of course, lots of risotto.

On Christmas Day, the menu features antipasti, cheese boards and charcuterie, baked pasta al
forno, main course and the dessert - and sometimes even more than that. The main attraction of
this meal though is definitely the roast. Pork, beef or lamb are all typical Italian Christmas meats.
Alongside it comes lots of vegetables like green beans, carrots, roasted potatoes and parsnips.

My family and I would be sitting at the table for hours!

The holidays menu is not over without mentioning something that all Italians crave: wines!
With a Christmas roast, a really nice Brunello di Montalcino or Super Tuscan red are the right
options; for a white that can stand up to many types of food, Piedmont Arneis is an impeccable
solution. For a perfect cin cin (a toast that sounds like glasses clinking), nice sparkling wines.

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After you've made it through all the courses, it's time for dessert. Some traditional Italian
Christmas sweets include panettone and pandoro. Both are types of sweet bread with the main
difference being that panettone contains candied fruit and raisins. If you’re celebrating in
southern Italy, you’ll probably come across delicious spiced nut pastries known as mostaccioli.

Learn more about panettone and pandoro in this blog.

You may think that the holiday is now over, but for the Italians the answer is still no: Christmas
time in Italy is not complete up to January 6th, the day of the epiphany that is said to "take away
the holidays" (L’epifania, tutte le feste porta via).

The church celebrates this day as the day when the Three Kings arrived to see baby Jesus, an event
usually marked by the addition of their figurines to the nativity scenes.

Epiphany, in Italy, is synonym with a magical character called Befana, who makes its appearance
on this day or, should I say, in the night between the 5th and 6th of January.

Christmas in Italy 2
La Befana looks like a witch and, on the night of the Epiphany, travels around Italy on her
broomstick to brink a stocking full of sweets to the nice kids and a bucket of coal to the naughty

But she doesn’t stop there, as she would also sweep the floor to sweep away the problems of the
previous year and leave the family with a fresh slate to go into the year ahead. Her housework,
according to the tale, stopped her from venturing out with the three kings on the night they went
off in search of baby Jesus. She went off herself later on, with a bag full of gifts for the newborn
king. La Befana marks the official end of the festival season. In the afternoon or the next day, the
Christmas decorations are put away until the next year.

In Italian Merry Christmas is "Buon Natale," in Sicilian "Bon Natali," in
Piedmontese "Bon Natal," and in Ladin (spoken in some parts of the northern
Italian region of South Tyrol) "Bon/Bun Nadèl"

Christmas in Italy Blog


Topics: Italy History & Culture

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