Thursday, December 17, 2009

Christmas In Italy - Part Two

The Language and Customs of
The Italian Holiday Season

Welcome to Part Two of the Christmas in Italy trio that I’m doing this month! Once again, there is a video attached, a slightly different one to the last post, this time the singers are Italian, but they are singing in English. If anyone wants to locate the other blogs in this set, feel free to drop me a quick note, or come by my personal blog and I’ll leave the links there! So, on to the holiday in Italia...

You can find bigger Christmas trees (alberi di Natale) and more extravagant decorations (decorazioni) in other parts of the world, but nothing looks, tastes, feels or sounds like la stagione natalizia (Christmas season) in Italy. With roots in the “Saturnalia,” the winter solstice rites of ancient Rome, and Christian commemorations of the birth of Gesù Bambino (Baby Jesus), the Italian holidays blend religious and pagan festivities that light up the darkest of nights.

In Rome and much of southern Italy, the traditional sound of Christmas is the music of bagpipes and flutes played by shepherds from the region of Abruzzo. Zampognari (bagpipe players), wearing shaggy sheepskin vests, felt hats and crisscrossed leather leggings, used to come to Rome weeks before Christmas to play in churches. These days the shepherds arrive later and play their ancient instruments in front of elegant stores along the Via Condotti and other shopping streets near the Spanish Steps.

Festivities such as fairs and torchlight processions begin weeks before and continue weeks after December 25.

The Tastes of Christmas

When Italians are asked what they do most during the Christmas holidays, they invariably say, “Mangiamo” (we eat) – very often and very well, with a huge feast on Christmas Eve, il pranzo di Natale at mid-day on Christmas, and il cenone di capodanno, another elaborate dinner on New Year’s Eve. In some regions the Christmas feasts must have seven courses (for the seven sacraments); others serve nine (the trinity times three) or thirteen (for Jesus and his twelve disciples).

The centerpiece of the Christmas Eve dinner is fish, particularly eel, a favorite of the ancient Romans that appears in the earliest known cookbook, written by a gourmand known as Apicius. This symbol of life and immortality was traditionally sold alive and wiggling, then beheaded, chopped and dropped into boiling water, spit-roasted, grilled, stewed with white wine and peas, or pickled in vinegar, oil, bay leaves, rosemary and cloves.

The Christmas day feast usually starts with a rich pasta, such as cappelletti in brodo, little hats stuffed with chopped meats, cheese, eggs or pumpkin. By tradition everyone is supposed to eat at least a dozen. Depending on the region of Italy, the main course may be capon, pork or turkey. However, everyone saves room for the special dolci (sweets) and breads of Christmas.

Buon Natale!

Special thanks to the following sites and people for their help in preparing my Christmas Posts: News From Italy, The Italian Notebook, Dream of Italy, and my wonderful friend Stefano Testatonda.

1 comment:

  1. Okay, I really need to check out the Zampognari to see what bagpipes refers to. That sound is always always calling me...

    Huge prize: a cache of Time Guardian treasure. To enter, join me at:


Thank you for stopping by and sharing your thoughts.