The food, sights and traditions of an Italian Christmas
December 8th marks the official beginning of the Christmas season for Italy coinciding with the Holiday of the Immaculate Conception, a Roman Catholic belief surrounding the conception of Jesus. The day is a public Holiday with most offices and schools closed and marks the commencement of the Holiday season in Italy and the day is spent mostly decorating for Christmas. Italy’s Holiday season lasts from December 8th to La Befana, January 6th.
Natale (Christmas in Italian), is celebrated on the same date as it is here in the U.S., on December 25th. While many of the traditions can be weaved in similarities to ours there are a few that stand out if you are celebrating in Italy or in the States with an Italian- American family. By now you’ve heard of the feast of the seven fishes, an article in Food Network Magazine explains;
”The Feast of the Seven Fishes is an Italian-American Christmas Eve celebration that brings families together the same way Thanksgiving does with traditions that span generations, decades and oceans. Known in Italy as La Viglia, which translates to The Eve, as in December 24th, Christmas Eve”
“The tradition of eating fish on Christmas Eve comes from the Roman Catholic practice of not eating dairy or meat on the eve of some holidays, including Christmas. And the number seven is a symbol that’s repeated many times throughout the Bible – and in Catholicism, there are seven sacraments and deadly sins. Come the 1900s, all these ideas came together into the Feast of the Seven Fishes. The name itself, and the number of dishes is completely an Italian American invention”.
Some staples that are a must in an Italian Christmas? The Panettone, a sweet Italian bread gifted to many clients, friends and family for the Holidays and an Italian delicacy found in every region in Italy. While some recipes include ingredients such as raisins as the traditional recipe states, some have taken their own spin on the Panettone, such as Baratti & Milano’s Panettone, made with lievito madre (an organic yeast), no raisins and of course filled with their creamy and luscious Baratti & Milano chocolate… Panettone can be eaten sliced and toasted in the mornings alongside your hot coffee/tea or you can of course eat it straight from the box or get creative and make a French toast bake! There are MANY recipes out there but here is a personal one I love which is super easy from all recipes. You might not ever use another bread in your bake again….
Another sign that it is Christmas in Italy are the roasted chestnuts on almost all of the city cobbled streets. With gorgeous lights sparkling on every corner that can only be described as old European glam you will be hard pressed to not want to stay out all night while strolling and sipping on hot mulled wine and enjoying a chestnut or two! Oh and we can’t forget to mention the Torrone when talking Italian Christmas! Torrone, or Italian nougat, is best described as a bar consisting of egg white, honey, sugar and almonds. Hard or soft will depend on the region you find yourself in however no matter where in Italy you find yourself are there is no denying you will be introduced to the Torrone! Want to try a crunchy torrone nougat made in Piemonte, Italy? Baratti & Milano for the win with their 150 gram Torrone. 50%/50% mix of nougat and Piedmontese "Tonde e Gentile" hazelnuts
Had enough to eat? Head out and explore! Between different regions and their festivals, live Nativity sets, Christmas markets etc. Want to see the 1991 world’s largest Christmas tree according to the Guiness book of records? Plan a visit to Gubbio in Umbria! This way to Italy also describes a Santa Regatta in Venice with a Christmas water parade! Want to catch the opera or a book a Christmas walking tour? Getyourguide has some wonderful tours you can book online to add the festive feel to your Holiday.
Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year no matter where you are, but in Italy? I’d like to say there is something magical in the air. In my years living in Italy, I found it to be more about the sights and sounds of the Holiday and a little less about the height of the tree or the amount of presents under the tree. No matter where you find yourself this Christmas, I hope you can sprinkle in a little Italian tradition!