domenica 11 dicembre 2011

Italian Christmas

Last Sunday I attended a local Christmas market with my friend Louana: it was very cold and we had little sales but we chatted a lot, so the day passed pleasantly the same.
Since we were surronded by Christmas decorations, songs and people shopping for gifts, we ended up talking about Christmas things and comparing traditions of our home countries (before moving to Italy, she lived in U.K. and South Africa).
I really enjoyed that conversation, so today I want to share with you some of the main Italian Christmas traditions :)

Immaculate Conception (December 8th) - Catholic feast, since in this day schools are closed and you don't go to work (if the 8th is near a weekend the holiday last a couple days more),  many people leave for a little vacation or just stay home and decorate the house for Christmas.
Christmas tree in Milan

Nativity scene (or manger) - another religious tradition widespread in Italy. In addition to the Christmas tree, we use to decorate our houses with Nativity scene dioramas, using small figurines made with various materials: plastic, painted plaster, wood... a particular kind of manger is Neapolitan one, because figurines are dressed with real clothes and they represents not only the typical manger characters, but also modern days famous people like politicians, actors, etc. Nativity scenes can also be found outdoors, often set up by parishes, with large mechanized statues or with real actors (when I was a child I once played one of the Magi in my parish's manger).
Nativity scene from Sorrento Cathedral

Epiphany (January 6th) - Epiphany commemorates the 12th day of Christmas when the three Wise Men arrived at the manger bearing gifts for Baby Jesus (it's also the last day of Christmas holidays).  In this day children receive colouful stockings full of sweets, little toys and even money (or coal for the bad ones, but nowadays it's usually candy coal), brought to them during the night by an old lady flying on a broomstick (very similar to a witch), known as "La Befana".
a doll representing "La Befana"

Christmas treats - almost every town in Italy has its typical Christmas recipe, here are some of the most famous:
Panettone (Milan) - my favourite! It's a kind of leavened soft bread cake with raisins and candied fruit inside (recipe).

Pandoro (Verona):  a rich, buttery cake that's generally sprinkled with an abundance of powdered sugar. Unlike panettone, it never contains candied fruit (recipe).

Panforte (Siena): a spiced bread with almonds (recipe).

Struffoli (Naples): little fried dough balls dipped in a honey syrup and sprinkled with "diavolilli", a type of candy (recipe).

And what about you? What are your hometown Christmas traditions (if you celebrate it)? I would be glad to know :)