Friday thought: Christmas in Italy

Since this is my last post before I leave for Australia, I thought I would share a little bit of love for Italian Christmas traditions. I grew up in Australia, but my parents were born in Italy and they brought a lot of Italian traditions with them. Like most Italian families, we place more emphasis on Christmas Eve than we do on Christmas Day. In our household, all of Christmas Eve is spent preparing a huge fish dinner that we share together before heading to midnight mass. Christmas Day is a subdued affair in comparison.

That said, we’ve become pretty Australian after almost 40 years here and we always have the traditional roast pork and ham, crackers, Christmas pudding and Boxing Day shopping spree. And it wasn’t until I moved to Italy that I realised there are a lot of really beautiful Italian Christmas traditions that most people don’t even know about. Here are some of my favourites:

1. Italians don’t start decorating until December 8, which also marks the Immaculate Conception. If you’re travelling, you won’t see any Christmas lights or decorations before then.

2. If you’re in Rome, the South of Italy or Sicily, you might get more than you bargained for when it comes to carolling. Italians don’t just sing the Christmas classics, they’re accompanied by zampognari or traditional bag pipe players.

3. Santa’s great, but a long time ago, presents were bought by baby Jesus himself. In fact, a lot of Italian families still place more emphasis on their Nativity Scene than their Christmas tree. Poor kid, not even a day old and already put to work to deliver presents!

4. On that note, one of the most beautiful Italian traditions is the Live Nativity. If you’re in Italy on the 24th, you can see locals acting out the birth of Christ complete with farm animals. The best Nativity Scenes are to be had in Naples.

5. The festivities don’t end on December 25. The Italians might be late to the party with their decorations, but they keep celebrating until January 6, when La Befana, a cranky old witch, brings kids little presents and sweets.

6. Don’t eat that Panforte, roll it. Panforte is a traditional Tuscan cake. It’s a bit like a squashed Christmas pudding, except it’d break a window if you threw it. In Tuscany, it’s tradition to have a Panforte rolling competition in the days leading up to New Year’s. Whoever’s Panforte rolls the farthest, wins!

7. And last, but not least, don’t forget the lentils. In Italy, lentils are synonymous with money, so every holiday table has a big bowl of them. The more you eat, the more luck you’ll have in the New Year.

I’ll be taking over Visit Tuscany’s official Instagram account tomorrow to share all the fun and splendour of Manciano’s Christmas Festival, so head on over and don’t miss out on a little Tuscan holiday spirit! I can’t wait. It’s going to a blast. Have a gorgeous weekend xx

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