It's finished Holiday season and I want to write about Christmas and New Year’s traditions in Italy. As we all know already Italy is a country of traditions! They differ a bit from region to region or town to town just like the dialects, but some are common all over Italy and those are the ones I’d like to share.
Christmas is well loved and celebrated in Italy as all over the World and by the end of November most of the shops are decked out for the season.
On Christmas Eve the whole family gathers at the table laden with goods with Presepe in the center. Presepe is Nativity Scene in Italy - Joseph, Mary and animals in the stable. Just a few figures or all the table taken by scenes of local life. At Christmas time a lot of towns hold Presepe exhibitions and artists compete to make the best one.
At midnight the youngest in the family holds the statuette of baby Jesus and leads the „train” of a sort where everybody follows holding the person before by the shoulders all around the house as they sing «tu scendi dalle stelle» - You come down from the stars. At the end of the song baby Jesus is put into Presepe and unwrapping of gifts starts.
One more Christmas tradition is Italian Christmas cakes that grace every table - panettone and pan d'oro.
There are other traditional sweets of this period. In our region they called purcedduzzi and carteddati. Purcedduzzi are small, funny, fried gnocchi with a sweet flavour and an orange aroma, carteddati in dialect means bent, curved. Both can be decorated with almonds or cedar nuts (the almond tree is the most common in Puglia) and covered with honey. They can be covered also with "vincotto" - wine boiled until it becomes syrup.
Right after Christmas on the 26th is St.Stephen’s Day - Santo Stefano. He is the patron saint of Italy. I can’t remember any particular traditions of that day besides getting the whole family together one more time to feast from the heart and stomach!
Let’s move on from Christmas to New Years.
Traditionally it’s not a family holiday like Christmas, but a celebration with friends, usually a noisy and fun party. Often Italians go skiing for a few days over the New Years or just to get away to the mountains. One of the holy traditions of New Year’s Eve is cooking lentils and then eating them at midnight, of course without utensils, just with hands! Lentils are followed by meat delicacy called cotechino. It is a fresh sausage made from pork, fatback, and pork rind. Eaten with hands of course Tradition says eating lentils at New Year’s will bring you lots of money in that year. As long as I remember, and especially since the crisis, it didn’t bring us any, but we still do it every year.
Last holiday of the season is Epafania - Epiphany, that is celebrated 12 days after Christmas on the 6th of January. Gift giving for Christmas is a novelty in Italy, that tradition isn’t older than 30 years. Before that the gifts were brought by Befana – old, ugly but kind witch that comes on her broom at the night of the 6th and places the gift into the stocking hung at the window or fireplace. Traditionally you have to leave Befana a snack. If the child was good for the year he or she will find stocking full of sweets, dry and fresh fruit, but if he or she was bad the stocking will be filled with coal. This tradition is getting forgotten now but my husband always leaves a sockful of chocolates and a tiny witch figure under my pillow.