In Italy, the coming of Christmas is boisterously celebrated with many holiday specific traditions, however the sheer mass of separate regional and familial traditions makes it very difficult to define what the typical Italian Christmas might look like. In spite of this, I will try to point to select few of the my favourites
The Nativity Scene. The 8th of December is the Day of the Holy Conception, the last holiday before Christmas. Schools close and families get together at home to decorate and begin the Christmas countdown. The nativity scene, put out on this day, is quite popular in Italian households and is a childhood favourite. It is usually represented with miniature statues, houses, landscapes. sheep, pastors, but is also accompanied by each family’s individual additions. In Naples, for example, the Nativity characters are updated every year: handmade by masters, the new statues resemble celebrities: this year it won’t be strange to find Obama, Michael Jackson or even Julian Assange from Wikileaks in the Nativity Scene
The Christmas Tree. The Christmas tree is another tradition that begins on the 8th of December. Usually, Evergreens, roots in tact and alive, are brought inside the houses in big pots. Italians prefer, unlike many people around the world, to not kill their trees yearly. Whoever doesn’t want to have a real tree, can always decorate a plastic one, but this is quite unusual in Italy. The tree stays in the house, decorated, until the 6th of January, the end of Christmas-time in Italy.
The Food. Talking about a singular culinary tradition in Italy is quite impossible: almost every single family, city and region serves different dishes for Christmas. There are those who prefer to have the big family meal on the 24th at dinner time, and those who plan to do it on the 25th for lunch. In classic, Italian style, the only thing which doesn’t change is the quantity of the food: Overflowing.
One thing which is always present is Pandoro or Panettone and, of course, Mascarpone sauce. Pandoro is a sweet bread, baked with jelly, fruit and raisins inside. Pandoro is quite similar, a little sweeter, but without fruit and sometimes including chocolate chips. One of the two is covered in Mascarpone, a cream made with eggs and cheese- very soft and tasty (something similar to the tiramisù creme). This combination of is the best Christmas dessert ever!
The Befana. Even if she isn’t exactly Christmas related, but, rather more connected with the end of Christmas-time, I particularly love the tradition of Befana. This old lady comes in the night between the 5th and the 6th of January to distribute sweets into the socks of good children and coal to bad children. Befana is just an old lady, built from ancient rural legends. She wears broken shoes and flies on a broom.
As opposed to Santa, she is depicted negatively because she comes to take away the Christmas festivity, rather than being the central protagonist of it.
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