An Italian Christmas
Although I’m not Italian I’ve been living here, near Rome, for nearly 30 years and have been married to an Italian for 20 of these years.
As you all know, Italy is a “long” country, with its top in the middle of Europe, up next to France, Switzerland and Austria while the bottom of the “boot” is in the middle of the Mediterranean – Italy’s southernmost island is further south than Tunis, in north Africa. So obviously Christmas celebrations differ greatly from one end of Italy to the other. In most homes Christmas starts after 8 December, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. After that date people start to put up their Christmas decorations. In the north most have a Christmas tree, but in the south there are still many areas where a Nativity scene is preferred. The art of carving Nativity scene figures centres around Naples. After that everyone goes crazy, like most of the rest of the world, with the usual commercial frenzy of present buying.
On Christmas Eve most Italians abstain from eating any kind of meat, as a kind of ritual fast. The same applies to Good Friday. Then in the evening they eat what many Italians consider the most important meal of the Christmas holidays, but no meat. What is actually eaten varies enormously, just as Italian cooking varies from town to town and even from village to village. In my in-laws’ village north of Rome they like to eat, amongst other things, roast eel, or eel cooked with onions and sultanas in tomato sauce. Traditionally Christmas Eve dinner was not supposed to be a “rich” meal, but now many like to include salmon or oysters on the menu.
Many people leave home after dinner to go to Midnight Mass.
At Christmas lunchtime there is another eating bonanza, a typical meal might consist of various hors d’oeuvres (Parma ham, salami, olives, etc.)then perhaps a broth or egg soup “to prepare the stomach” followed by at least one pasta dish, like lasagne, fettucine, tortellini (or all of these!). Then comes a selection of roast and deep-fried meats, deep-fried vegetables, and various salads. The survivors can finish their meal with a selection of fruit and desserts or a typical Italian Christmas cake such as panettone which originally comes from Milan, or pandoro (Verona) or panforte (Siena) or many of the other delicious sweet dishes that are prepared all over the Italian peninsular.
Present-giving also varies. Some open their presents before Christmas Eve dinner, some after, others open them on Christmas Day.
In Italy Christmas is considered a family occasion, when all the family gathers together. Then, after Christmas many head for their local airport, to fly off for a New Year’s holiday on the ski slopes or, even more popular, on some tropical beach. There is a saying in Italy: “Natale con i tuoi, Pasqua con chi vuoi” which means “Christmas with your family, Easter with whoever you want”.
I wish all peace and joy at Christmas, to all of you.