Today we kick start our 12 Days of Christmas giveaway and we want to get into the Christmas spirit and give you some inspiration for Italian holidays during the festive session. Here's what the American travel writer Margie Miklas has to say about Christmas celebrations and traditions in Italy:
Christmas is the biggest holiday in Italy and families, businesses, and cities and towns begin celebrating the season several weeks prior to Christmas through January 6, the Feast of the Epiphany. As in most things Italian, traditions that date back many centuries continue to play an important role. Each region has its own traditions and here are just a few of the most well-known Christmas traditions celebrated in Italy.
Christmas Eve Celebration of the Seven Fishes
The Christmas Eve dinner has traditionally been celebrated with various fish dishes, usually seven but in some instances, up to thirteen. These could include baccala, clams, whitefish, eel, shrimp, mussels and calamari. Christmas Eve is the vigil of the solemn feast, Christmas, and typically, meat is avoided.
Although this custom originated in southern Italy, not all areas adhere to this tradition. My Sicilian friend, Angela Savoca tells me that her family has never celebrated Christmas Eve dinner with the traditional seven fishes. Angela was born and raised in Cesarò, Sicily, an inland mountainous area. She clarified that the mountainous inland regions do not have access to the fresh seafood. Only the coastal towns and cities have fresh seafood available, and in these places is where this tradition is more frequently practiced.
Christmas Eve Bonfires
Many towns and villages in Italy celebrate Christmas Eve by lighting grand bonfires and burning them all night, symbolic of the fire that warmed Baby Jesus. The northern ski town of Cervinia in Valle d’Aosta celebrates Christmas Eve with a torch-lit procession by skiers as they come down the mountain. The well-known resort town of Taormina lights a large bonfire, and the locals refer to this night as the Night of the Luminaria.
In the Molise region of central Italy, the town of Agnone in celebrates La `Nocciata, an ancient festival held on December 24th. Italian men dress in traditional costumes and carry thirteen-foot-high torches made from silver fir pinewood throughout the town. The procession, commonly called “La Fracolare” concludes with a gigantic bonfire known as “Bonfire of the Brotherhood.” A Nativity scene is also on display at the square, and thousands of visitors from neighboring towns come to Agnone to be part of this experience.
Nativity Cribs or Presepe
Beginning December 8 families start to prepare their presepe, or Christmas crèche. It is not enough to simply bring the one out from last year. In Napoli, the entire family gets involved, including the children. Naples has an entire pedestrian street, via San Gregorio Armeno, where artisans create beautiful presepe all year. Every family has one and they can be very elaborate with lighting, and different figures, not just religious ones. The Baby Jesus is never placed in the manger until Christmas Eve.
Italy has many other Christmas traditions and these are only a few. The season is very special in Italy and if you ever the chance to spend the Christmas season there, I highly recommend it.
Margie Miklas is an American writer with a passion for travel and I particular, Italy. She is the author of Memoirs of a Solo Traveler – My Love Affair with Sicily .