6 Italian Christmas Traditions Americans Can Do
After hitting up the Italian Christmas markets, with all your gifts wrapped and Babbo Natale (Santa Claus) on his way, it is time to settle in and celebrate Christmas like an Italian.
1. Take in the lights | During Christmas, the concept of bella figura extends to cities and streets as well. It is all about image, beauty and presentation. Head out on foot to experience the twinkling lights, and never say no to roasted chestnuts and mulled wine along the way.
2. Set up il Presepio | While Christmas trees are gaining in popularity, most Italian homes still set up a presepio, or manger scene. All of the usual cast of characters are included, but to really deck out your holiday set up, you can opt for optional figurines like pizzaioli (pizzamakers) and tiny casks of wine (of course) to fill out the scene around Mary and Joseph.
3. Plan a Christmas Eve dinner ‘di magro’ (light and meatless) | The night before Christmas, cook up a feast of fish. This Christmas Eve dinner can traditionally feature 7 kinds of seafood, depending on the region. Eel is often a favorite, and salted cod is pretty much non-negotiable.
4. Break out the games | In the hours between meals, break out some games for distraction and digestion. The most popular game is la tombola, which most closely resembles an enthusiastic version of bingo… with beans.
5. Tis the season… for cake! | It is not only the streets that are transformed during Christmas season in Italy; the supermarkets also get a makeover to make room for hundreds of boxed cakes. pandoro and panettone are holiday necessities, because no Christmas celebration in Italy could be complete without dessert.
Depending on your preference, you can select pandoro, which hails from Verona, star shaped, and true to its name: golden colored bread. Or savor a slice of panettone, the runaway favorite, filled with candied fruit and raisins. This cake has its origins in Milan, and must rise three times to achieve its yeasty flavor and distinct dome-topped look.
6. Pace yourself | Christmas Day is only the beginning. Next up is Saint Stephen’s Day on December 26th, when it is time to throw on your winter best and get out of the house to wish your friends and neighbors happy holidays. Celebrations continue for all 12 days of Christmas through the 6th of January. Buon Natale!
Natalie moved from California to Italy in 2010, and is the writer behind the blog, An American in Rome. She provides Italian lifestyle tidbits each month for the Mazzoni Wines blog, Live Like an Italian.