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Christmas in Italy

By Fiona Tankard

Buon natale! Auguri ! Buone feste! - three phrases that ring out across Italy as people wish each other Happy Christmas.

When I moved to Umbria in Italy from Great Britain almost 12 years ago, I was really looking forward to preparing for Christmas. I looked out for Christmas decorations to be on sale in the shops in September like back home, and when it got to the end of November and there was still nothing, I was getting a bit anxious, being a lover of all things sparkly and festive. I needn’t have worried, after the start of Advent on December 8, which is the day of the Immacolata Concezione (Immaculate Conception) and also a public holiday, the Christmas preparations started in low-key earnest. Lights appeared in the village streets, to my surprise lonely farmhouses were festooned with disco-sized flashing external lights and little presepi or cribs appeared in churches and at roadside shrines.

Presepi are miniature scenes of the Nativity with tiny shepherds, wise men, the Holy Family (but without the baby Jesus, who is placed in his little crib at midnight on December 24) and little animals too. Saint Francis of Assisi (Umbria’s patron saint) allegedly started the fashion for building presepi in 1223 AD (although some say he was copying an idea he had seen somewhere else) and almost 800 years later people all over Italy go to see them or make their own at home, all components being for sale in the local supermarkets. There are even living cribs - presepi viventi - where locals get dressed up and re-enact the nativity scenes in authentic a way as possible. You can see a photo of my friend Franco’s daughter taking part in her village’s living crib last year.

Christmas trees are common and almost every home has one, either inside or outside. They are often adorned with home made decorations, Franco’s family for example sit around the table together and make theirs. He says it’s a competition to see who can make the best decorations!

Father Christmas – Babbo Natale - is a fairly recent arrival (maybe the last 20 years or so), the role of present-giver traditionally being La Befana, an ugly (but nice) Christmas witch, who arrives on January 6 (the end of Advent) and leaves presents for good children and something horrible (coal or ashes) for naughty ones. The children leave a sock in the fireplace for her to fill and hope for the best!

One favourite saying in Italy is Natale con i tuoi, Pasqua con i vuoi – Christmas with your family, Easter with who you want. Christmas is definitely a family occasion and that involves food – big time! Unlike Great Britain with its traditional roast turkey and Christmas pudding, there is no single set Christmas meal. It depends on where you live, the differences even coming down to village level – what is traditional in one hamlet may not be in the next town. Many families eat tortellini in brodo (tortellini pasta in broth) and lamb on Christmas day. Franco’s family, who come from the Salento region of Puglia (the very tip of the heel of Italy’s boot) always eat chestnuts, mandarins and lots of sweets such as porcedduzzi – spicy fried pastries covered in honey. As well as homemade treats, mass produced panettone (Italian Christmas cake) and spumante (sparkling wine) are common.

People don’t go in for Christmas cards here, and so back in 1994 our Italian friends were quite surprised to receive ours. We also got a telling off from the local post office as they alleged we had blocked the letter box with all our cards! As we couldn’t find them to buy we made our own, and still continue the tradition to this day. In fact, after writing this, that is my next task as it takes quite a lot of advance planning and I must admit I start before December 8. (Don’t tell anyone!)

Buon Natale a tutti!

Fiona Tankard is marketing director of www.landscapeproperties.com which specialises in luxury homes in Italy, holiday accommodation and also has a development project in Puglia. She can be contacted on ftankard@landscapeproperties.com

Franco’s holiday accommodation business in Salento is www.borgoterra.com

Buon natale! Auguri ! Buone feste! - three phrases that ring out across Italy as people wish each other Happy Christmas.

When I moved to Umbria in Italy from Great Britain almost 12 years ago, I was really looking forward to preparing for Christmas. I looked out for Christmas decorations to be on sale in the shops in September like back home, and when it got to the end of November and there was still nothing, I was getting a bit anxious, being a lover of all things sparkly and festive. I needn’t have worried, after the start of Advent on December 8, which is the day of the Immacolata Concezione (Immaculate Conception) and also a public holiday, the Christmas preparations started in low-key earnest. Lights appeared in the village streets, to my surprise lonely farmhouses were festooned with disco-sized flashing external lights and little presepi or cribs appeared in churches and at roadside shrines.

Presepi are miniature scenes of the Nativity with tiny shepherds, wise men, the Holy Family (but without the baby Jesus, who is placed in his little crib at midnight on December 24) and little animals too. Saint Francis of Assisi (Umbria’s patron saint) allegedly started the fashion for building presepi in 1223 AD (although some say he was copying an idea he had seen somewhere else) and almost 800 years later people all over Italy go to see them or make their own at home, all components being for sale in the local supermarkets. There are even living cribs - presepi viventi - where locals get dressed up and re-enact the nativity scenes in authentic a way as possible. You can see a photo of my friend Franco’s daughter taking part in her village’s living crib last year.

Christmas trees are common and almost every home has one, either inside or outside. They are often adorned with home made decorations, Franco’s family for example sit around the table together and make theirs. He says it’s a competition to see who can make the best decorations!

Father Christmas – Babbo Natale - is a fairly recent arrival (maybe the last 20 years or so), the role of present-giver traditionally being La Befana, an ugly (but nice) Christmas witch, who arrives on January 6 (the end of Advent) and leaves presents for good children and something horrible (coal or ashes) for naughty ones. The children leave a sock in the fireplace for her to fill and hope for the best!

One favourite saying in Italy is Natale con i tuoi, Pasqua con i vuoi – Christmas with your family, Easter with who you want. Christmas is definitely a family occasion and that involves food – big time! Unlike Great Britain with its traditional roast turkey and Christmas pudding, there is no single set Christmas meal. It depends on where you live, the differences even coming down to village level – what is traditional in one hamlet may not be in the next town. Many families eat tortellini in brodo (tortellini pasta in broth) and lamb on Christmas day. Franco’s family, who come from the Salento region of Puglia (the very tip of the heel of Italy’s boot) always eat chestnuts, mandarins and lots of sweets such as porcedduzzi – spicy fried pastries covered in honey. As well as homemade treats, mass produced panettone (Italian Christmas cake) and spumante (sparkling wine) are common.

People don’t go in for Christmas cards here, and so back in 1994 our Italian friends were quite surprised to receive ours. We also got a telling off from the local post office as they alleged we had blocked the letter box with all our cards! As we couldn’t find them to buy we made our own, and still continue the tradition to this day. In fact, after writing this, that is my next task as it takes quite a lot of advance planning and I must admit I start before December 8. (Don’t tell anyone!)

Buon Natale a tutti!

Fiona Tankard is marketing director of www.landscapeproperties.com which specialises in luxury homes in Italy, holiday accommodation and also has a development project in Puglia. She can be contacted on ftankard@landscapeproperties.com

Franco’s holiday accommodation business in Salento is www.borgoterra.com

Buon natale! Auguri ! Buone feste! - three phrases that ring out across Italy as people wish each other Happy Christmas.

When I moved to Umbria in Italy from Great Britain almost 12 years ago, I was really looking forward to preparing for Christmas. I looked out for Christmas decorations to be on sale in the shops in September like back home, and when it got to the end of November and there was still nothing, I was getting a bit anxious, being a lover of all things sparkly and festive. I needn’t have worried, after the start of Advent on December 8, which is the day of the Immacolata Concezione (Immaculate Conception) and also a public holiday, the Christmas preparations started in low-key earnest. Lights appeared in the village streets, to my surprise lonely farmhouses were festooned with disco-sized flashing external lights and little presepi or cribs appeared in churches and at roadside shrines.

Presepi are miniature scenes of the Nativity with tiny shepherds, wise men, the Holy Family (but without the baby Jesus, who is placed in his little crib at midnight on December 24) and little animals too. Saint Francis of Assisi (Umbria’s patron saint) allegedly started the fashion for building presepi in 1223 AD (although some say he was copying an idea he had seen somewhere else) and almost 800 years later people all over Italy go to see them or make their own at home, all components being for sale in the local supermarkets. There are even living cribs - presepi viventi - where locals get dressed up and re-enact the nativity scenes in authentic a way as possible. You can see a photo of my friend Franco’s daughter taking part in her village’s living crib last year.

Christmas trees are common and almost every home has one, either inside or outside. They are often adorned with home made decorations, Franco’s family for example sit around the table together and make theirs. He says it’s a competition to see who can make the best decorations!

Father Christmas – Babbo Natale - is a fairly recent arrival (maybe the last 20 years or so), the role of present-giver traditionally being La Befana, an ugly (but nice) Christmas witch, who arrives on January 6 (the end of Advent) and leaves presents for good children and something horrible (coal or ashes) for naughty ones. The children leave a sock in the fireplace for her to fill and hope for the best!

One favourite saying in Italy is Natale con i tuoi, Pasqua con i vuoi – Christmas with your family, Easter with who you want. Christmas is definitely a family occasion and that involves food – big time! Unlike Great Britain with its traditional roast turkey and Christmas pudding, there is no single set Christmas meal. It depends on where you live, the differences even coming down to village level – what is traditional in one hamlet may not be in the next town. Many families eat tortellini in brodo (tortellini pasta in broth) and lamb on Christmas day. Franco’s family, who come from the Salento region of Puglia (the very tip of the heel of Italy’s boot) always eat chestnuts, mandarins and lots of sweets such as porcedduzzi – spicy fried pastries covered in honey. As well as homemade treats, mass produced panettone (Italian Christmas cake) and spumante (sparkling wine) are common.

People don’t go in for Christmas cards here, and so back in 1994 our Italian friends were quite surprised to receive ours. We also got a telling off from the local post office as they alleged we had blocked the letter box with all our cards! As we couldn’t find them to buy we made our own, and still continue the tradition to this day. In fact, after writing this, that is my next task as it takes quite a lot of advance planning and I must admit I start before December 8. (Don’t tell anyone!)

Buon Natale a tutti!

Fiona Tankard is marketing director of www.landscapeproperties.com which specialises in luxury homes in Italy, holiday accommodation and also has a development project in Puglia. She can be contacted on ftankard@landscapeproperties.com

Franco’s holiday accommodation business in Salento is www.borgoterra.com


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