Christmas Italian style, I love it. It is still old fashioned, traditional and atmospheric.
I like nothing more than to go into nearby Lucca and wander up and down the narrow cobbled streets looking at the wonderfully warm and Christmassy window displays.
I love it because it doesn’t start too early. No tacky cards on display from August. Nope. Here it starts after All Saints’ Day which is on 1 November.
Whilst there aren’t really any shopping bargains to be had, it is lovely to go into a little, traditional shop and see your purchased goodies carefully wrapped up into the most glorious package usually at no extra charge. The assistant asks “è un regalo?” Is it a present? One nod of the head sees them bringing out richly coloured wrapping paper and ribbons galore for curling into divine, festive ringlets.
I have said so before but I love to take a delicious Italian hot chocolate in winter. It is thick and rich. You eat it with a spoon, there’s no drinking this stuff and you can take it with or without panna (whipped cream).
My current favourite is cioccolato fondente con menta e senza panna, that is dark chocolate with mint and without cream, it is too luxuriously fabulous to describe, and is always finished too soon.
Before Christmas Italians go to friends houses to wish them best seasons withes. The process involves drinking (well it does in my zone) a warm mandarin punch or two and eating a little cake.
The nativity is on display in every Italian home. Some towns have lavish displays. Ours, an old hilltop town, prefers a living nativity where, two days before Christmas, the locals, dress up in historical costume for displays of life in olden times. As you wind your way up and down the tight medieval streets, you can see traditional crafts, sample old local foods and partake of a vin brulée or two whilst hoping to get a glimpse of Mary and Joseph and the “real” donkey as they make their way up to the church on the summit.
Food-wise, nothing is really prepared in advance of Christmas in Italy. I was always used to starting my Christmas cake in October and being well prepared for our festive eating but in Italy, Christmas day food is prepared fresh in the morning. In my 11 years living here, I have spent 7 of them living in an Italian home with an Italian family and Italian traditions.
Christmas lunch menu was usually, crostini, tortellini in brodo followed by lasagne. I used to roast a turkey and serve vegetables but many households have roast pork which is eaten a lot. There is often also another pasta with a sauce before the meat course.
Pudding was usually simple with an up-market panettoni or pandoro and coffee.
Santa or Babbo Natale is fairly new here in Italy. The Christmas tradition here was and still is, La Befana who comes on Epiphany to give the good children toys and the naughty children, coal.