Christmas in Tuscany
There is an old saying in Italy, ‘Natale con la tua famiglia, Pasqua con chi vuoi,’ which means ‘Christmas with your family, Easter with whoever you want.’ Christmas is considered such a special and sacred event that it is traditional to enjoy meals and spend time with your family.
In the hill towns of Tuscany, the streets are decorated with Christmas lights and Nativity Scenes. The window displays are sparkling and dazzling, bursting with color that transport you instantly to a fairytale kingdom.
As with most things in Italy, Christmas here is still old-style and traditional. Even the food has been passed down through the generations, gradually evolving into a traditional menu.
Christmas in Italy involves nearly four full weeks of celebrations.
The Holiday Calendar-
The 8th of December is the official beginning of the holiday season.
The holiday meals include Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and the 26th of December, which is Santo Stefano. Then there is a rest of 4 days before everyone is back at the table for the Cenone di Capo d’Anno. This is the New Year’s Eve dinner, which is often based on fish. This would then be followed by lunch on New Year’s Day.
Epiphany is 5 days later and the last event of the season. This includes the arrival of the Three Wise Men and for Italian children, and the arrival of the Befana, an ugly old witch. The children await her arrival even more than Santa Claus, known as Babbo Natale. Befana is a bit scary looking with her warts and all, but she keeps the children accountable just like Santa Clause and has treats to distribute. This happens on January 6th, which is the end of the Christmas season.
The Typical Christmas Meal in Italy-
The Christmas table is typically lined with appetizers and nibbles that will often be covered with a special tablecloth hand-made by nonna over a glass of celebratory prosecco. When you toast in Italy, it is very important to clink your glasses and look the other person in the eye. It is tempting to keep your eyes on your drink to ensure that you don’t spill it!
The appetizers could be a combination of hams and salamis, cheeses and local olives. Most often you will find a chicken liver pâté on Tuscan bread called ‘Crostini Toscani.’ Flans are popular as well, filled with the season’s freshest vegetables and perhaps some freshly shaved truffles.
The Joy of Homemade Pasta- the First Course –
For the first dish, primo, hand-made tortellini served in broth called brodo is followed by a second first course of pasta, often with a meat sauce like boar or pigeon, or a lasagna.
The Oven Baked Main Course –
After the pasta, an arrosto, or mixed roast meats flavored with rosemary, sage, and garlic is placed on the table.
It’s hard to believe that chickens were once considered a luxury food. But today, the roast meat for the holidays almost always includes a free range chicken
There is so much food in the appetizer and main course that vegetables often get ignored when a large meal like this is being planned in Tuscany. This is especially true of the simple green salad, or Insalata Mista, which is usually prepared but forgotten with all the savory dishes on the table. The contorni includes side dishes of vegetables. Roasted potatoes with sage and rosemary are a favorite.
Tuscan Sweets –
Siena has developed some desserts that have remained traditional over the years. These include the Panforte, a compact fruit cake with candied fruit and nuts, as well as the decadent Ricciarelli, a cookie made with almonds and sugar.
Another popular one is the Cavalluccio, a chunky dry cookie with a strong anise flavor mixed with finely chopped dried nuts and candied fruit.
The northern part of Tuscany has the Befannini, a rum flavored sugar cookie which is used as gifts between families, especially around the 6th of January when the Befana, or witch, come to visit.
In Tuscany, desserts are usually served with a glass of home-made Vin Santo, the sweet wine made from dried grapes.
After dinner, it used to be traditional to go to the cinema in the afternoon on Christmas day. Many families enjoy a stroll through the streets, not only to help work off lunch but also to see the spectacular ‘Presepe’, the Nativity scenes. Of course, to wish a ‘Buon Natale’, or Merry Christmas, to friends and neighbors is a high priority.
Usually, there will be Christmas markets or events happening all around to enjoy.
Buon Natale, a Merry Christmas, to each one of you! I hope for a wonderful holiday season and a joyous new year.