Explaining the Italian Christmas traditions in just a few lines is no easy task. I’ll talk about the main ones according to the gastronomic and folklore aspects. In one of my posts a few weeks ago I described the typical Christmas desserts and pastries. I’ve listed the main desserts, region by region. Let’s start again with the gastronomy.
A gastronomic tour de force
Yes. It’s true. It’s a veritable tour de force. It begins with Christmas Eve dinner, on December 24th, where tradition calls for a “lean” or meatless meal. This, especially in central and southern Italy, is replaced in certain regions with 7 courses based on seafood; in others, the protagonist is the eel (a fish that’s anything but lean), preceded obviously by a first course and appetizers. After the “light” dinner in preparation for lunch on the 25th, tradition has it that the whole family goes to church to attend Christmas Eve Mass. On Christmas Day, housewives give free rein to their imagination to prepare a lavish and rich lunch. In Piedmont, for example, there have to be agnolotti, a stuffed pasta; in Veneto, it’s polenta (corn meal) with cod, while in Emilia Romagna, it’s egg pasta like lasagne, tagliatelle and passatelli in meat broth. Stuffed capon and roast lamb triumph on the tables of the Tuscans and the Umbrians. In short, each region has its own specialty. Often, the only common denominator is the dessert, where Panettone and Pandoro dominate everything, often flanked by traditional local desserts. Lunch, often, lasts until dinner time.
Popular folk traditions
The folkloristic aspect of Christmas is just as rich and varied, often between the sacred and the profane. One of these is the Nativity scene, especially the Neapolitan one, which began in distant 1025. It portrays real images from everyday life and caricatures of well-known and popular characters.
Another strong folk element is the zampognari, in which shepherds from the nearby mountains play Christmas music on the zampogna, a particular wind instrument, a distant relative of the bagpipes.
The third element is the tree. This tradition is not originally Italian, but was imported years ago from northern Europe. And of course, we mustn’t forget all the other countless local traditions that characterize the Italian Christmas holidays.