Italian beauty lies in the different Christmas traditions that characterize each town, city and little village - you just need to move a bit up north or a bit down south to find weird Christmas traditions that you won’t find anywhere else. Not to mention the century-old fights that divide generations, families, and friends. Fights about serious matters like food, cards, and board games!
“How do you celebrate
Christmas in Italy?” Read on to find out.
We strongly believe in the exchange of thoughts and traditions, and that’s why we’re inviting you to step into our own festive world. Christmas in Italy means one thing: family. It means reuniting with cousins and uncles, grandparents and relatives that might even come back to their native hometown only for the holidays. It also means walking through Christmas markets in all parts of Italy, eating the best food and listening to Christmas songs that echo on the streets. This year, unfortunately, this will not be possible, but let us recall the good old days and talk you through our Christmas traditions.
The Christmas Tree and Nativity Scene
As the national tradition wants, the tree is up on December 8th, the day of Immacolata. But this actually differs in some regions: in Lombardy it’s typical to decorate the house on December 7th, the day of Milan’s patron saint, while in Bari decorations are up on December 6th, Saint Nicola day. The Nativity scene is mainly famous in Naples, where you can walk through Via San Gregorio Armeno to admire the handcrafted small statues that depict strange and quite unique characters for Nativity scenes that in Italian we call “presepi” . This tradition goes back to the 1600s/1700s, when Napolitean artisans started to introduce characters of locals in the holy composition. Today, this picturesque street is the best destination to find the most unique pieces to compose your nativity scene.
Christmas Day vs. Christmas Eve
There’s no set rule on the most celebrated day of Christmas. Some families gather on the 24th evening to eat dinner, play cards, open the presents and then attend the Holy Mass at midnight. Some other families prefer to go with the bigger celebrations on the 25th, when the long day allows them to spend time talking, eating all types of food, and then playing with the whole family. Typically, and according to the Catholic religion, no meat is allowed on Christmas Eve: tables are full with fish cooked in many different ways according to the individual family tradition and to the region.
While Christmas 25th is all about a big banquet that can last hours. After eating on both days, there is only one thing to do (besides taking a nap after the big meal!), which is playing cards or tombola. Just to give you an idea about what Italians eat on a regular Christmas Day, we asked our team members to name a few of their favourite dishes: lasagne, tortellini, bolliti, lentils, lamb, pandoro and panettone. All must-haves during the Christmas season.
Team Panettone or Team Pandoro
Here comes the big discussion! Typically, people either love panettone or pandoro. Both are Christmas sweets, hard to define without letting you taste them. Panettone was born back in 1400 from Ughetto degli Atellani, son of a famous commander of the time. Ughetto was in love with Adalgisa, daughter of a pastry chef called Toni. To be closer to Adalgisa, Ughetto pretended to be a pastry chef in Toni’s bakery and invented a sweet bread with butter and candied fruit. The two eventually got married and the sweet bread became so popular that people started to buy the famous “pan del Ton” (“Toni’s bread” in local dialect), from which comes the word Panettone.
Pandoro has a more undiscovered and mysterious story. It’s believed that the authentic pandoro comes from Ancient Rome but it was only in 1894 that Domenico Melegatti registered a patent with the recipe. Since then, Melegatti has been one of the biggest producers of Pandoro in Italy. Interesting fact is that the typical shape of the pandoro, a 8-points star, was created by a painter called Angelo Dall’Oca Bianca. Food mixed with art, what is better than that?
We hope you enjoyed these small curiosities and that you got to know our country a bit better. To get to know a bit more about Italy, have a look at our "Postcards from Italy" series.
The whole Mirta team wishes you and your families a merry Christmas or "Buon Natale"!