We all know that Christmas is one of the most awaited seasons, it just not excites children but everyone regardless of age as it is the season where we get to spend with families and loved ones.
Ever wonder how Christmas was in Italy?
Christmas in Italy is celebrated over several weeks. From the feast of the Immaculate Concepcion on the 8th of December until the day of Epiphany on the 6th of January. Two days before the feast of the Immaculate Concepcion, on the 6th of December, St. Nicholas day is celebrated, this is where the children write letters to St. Nicholas to ask for presents, they will hang socks or put will a plate on their tables on the eve of St. Nicholas day.
There is a festive atmosphere during the whole of December, the trees were put up, the houses, and the streets everywhere are decorated. One of the Italian favorite decoratives is the hand-painted Christmas balls which are usually made of glass, aside from a hand-painted one they also use laces, ribbons, and dried twigs to wrap it around the blown glass balls.
A Christmas filled the atmosphere with lights and decorations from houses to streets, to piazzas and churches. This makes you want to roam around more on the busy streets of the whole city and enjoy the Italian Christmas spirit.
Along with these decorated streets come the Christmas fairs and Christmas markets. The markets have different stalls where you can find Italian Christmas favorites, from the typical traditional foods and Christmas sweets to gifts. The Christmas fairs are usually on piazzas and in front of the churches, common fair rides for children like the Merry go Round can usually be seen in here. (see photo below).
Here’s a list of Italy’s top Christmas markets:
Located at Bolzano’s Piazza Walther, in the town of Bolzano, in Italy’s Alto Adige region. A medieval feel of shopping experience.
A Christmas Market in the central Piazza Dei Signori, here comes a wide variety of shopping items from the traditional Italian handicrafts and decorations to stollen and lebkuchen cakes, bratwurst sausages, and mulled-wine.
From November to January the ‘Marché Vert de Noël’ in the Roman theater with an Alpine feel Christmas while shopping.
If in Aosta it has an Alpine themed market, here in Florence it is more to a Germanic feel. The Mercato Tedesco di Natale on the Piazza Santa Croce in Florence a German-inspired Christmas market selling both Italian and German delicacies and decorations.
Home of the oldest Christmas markets in Italy, since 1769. The Fiera di Natale market located at the San Pietro Cathedral, and the Antica Fiera di Santa Lucia in the Santa Maria Dei Servi church.
Known for its unique nativity sets that are mastered and handcrafted by the expert artisans in the city.
Note: Due to the Coronavirus pandemic, kindly refer to this guide for the Italian holiday rules.
One of the most awaited decorations here in Italy is the Nativity scene or the ‘presepe’. It is known to one of the most important Christmas decorations as it is a miracle of Christs’ birth in the manger. It can usually be seen in the churches, piazzas, town squares, and in every house. These nativity scenes would always remind us what is it that we do celebrate during Christmas.
‘Zampograni’ or the zampogna players (bagpipe players, zampogna is the name of the instrument). The Zampogranis were originally shepherds who came down the hills for Christmas to be with their families and also to entertain people usually in shrines, but now the Zamp[ogranis are men who work in cities who keeps the zampogna tradition alive.
A Zampogna player
The Italian Panettone
Another Italian Christmas tradition is the panettone, the Christmas gathering wouldn’t be complete without this traditional bread. This classic Italian bread a large fruity enriched sweet bread, perfect for desserts, tea, and a perfect match for coffee. Check out the recipe below.
For the fruit:
- 10 ounces mixed dried fruits (currants, raisins, cranberries, dried cherries)
- 4 ounces candied lemon and orange peel (finely chopped)
- 2 ounces candied cherries
- 6 tablespoons Cointreau (or your favorite liqueur or fruit juice)
For the dough:
- 1 1/2 tablespoons dry yeast
- 6 ounces milk
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 4 cups strong bread flour
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 6 large eggs
- 10 ounces unsalted butter
- 1-ounce almonds
Preparing the fruit
- Gather all the ingredients.
- Put all the dried and candied fruits into a bowl and mix thoroughly.
- Pour in the Cointreau, mix again.
- Cover, and store in a cool dark place overnight. Do not refrigerate.
Preparing the Dough
- Gather the ingredients.
- Warm-up 5 ounces of the milk to lukewarm temperature. Reserve the remaining ounce of milk in the fridge. In a heatproof jug or bowl, sprinkle the dry yeast over the warmed milk, stir in the sugar, and leave to one side for 5 minutes.
- Tip the flour into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook. Sprinkle the salt into one side of the bowl. Pour in the frothy yeast mixture onto the other side—salt should never come into direct contact with dry or fresh yeast as it will kill the yeast, making the bread dense and hard.
- Mix the flour, salt, and yeast at a slow speed to combine the ingredients. Add 5 of the eggs, turn the mixer to medium speed and continue mixing until the dough smooths out, although it will become sticky.
- Cut 9 ounces of the softened butter into bite-sized chunks. Raise the speed of the mixer and add the butter a few pieces at a time.
- Let the mixer continue to run for at least 5 more minutes. The dough will turn glossy and even smoother and so soft and airy that it will be impossible to handle. This is the texture that you’re looking for.
- Grease a large baking bowl or dish with 1/2 ounce of the remaining butter. To retain the maximum amount of air, let the dough slide down into the greased bowl by its weight. Do not force it out.
- Scrape down any leftover dough with a soft spatula. Cover the greased bowl with a lid or tightly with plastic wrap and put it into a very cool place, preferably the fridge, and leave to proof overnight—the cold, long, slow rise will deliver the lightest of cakes. Slow is always better, and the result is a light and airy cake with a soft crumb.
Making the Panettone
- Place dough on a floured work surface and spread out into a rectangular shape. Strain the soaked fruits through a fine sieve, discard the juice. Place half of the fruits onto the spread-out dough.
- Strain the soaked fruits through a fine sieve, discard the juice. Place half of the fruits onto the spread-out dough.
- Fold the dough over the fruits and lightly roll the dough around to evenly distribute the fruit. Spread the dough again and repeat as before with the remaining fruit. The dough will be lumpy and knobbly, but look out for clusters of fruit and give them another roll around to redistribute it, if needed.
- Form the dough into a roughly shaped ball.
- Grease a 7-inch panettone tin or panettone paper case with the remaining 1/2 ounce of butter. If you have neither of these, use a regular cake tin, but line the base and sides with greaseproof paper standing at least 2 inches above the rim.
- Drop the dough into the center of the tin, tuck the almonds into the surface of the cake, and cover loosely with a tea cloth.
- Place the cake in a warm place for 2 to 3 hours until the dough is well risen and rising above the tin. If 3 hours isn’t enough, give it enough time: The key here is to have the rise above the rim of the tin or case.
- Preheat the oven to 350 F. Mix the remaining egg with the remaining ounce of milk and brush over the surface of the cake. Bake in the middle of the oven for 20 minutes. Lower the heat to 300 F and cook for a further 40 minutes. The panettone is ready when a skewer comes out clean from the middle part of the cake.
- Let the cake cool for 5 minutes in the tin on a cooling rack, then remove and leave it to cool completely.
(Complete guide for making panettone at thespruceeats.com)
The black currant
This fruit is one of the basic ingredients in making a panettone, together with cherries, cranberries, and dried fruits. Considered as a shrub in the family Grossulariaceae has grown for its berries, which often grows in Central and Northern Europe.
The Gift Giving
On the 24th of December, most families don’t eat during the day as it is fasting for them. After the midnight mass by the pope, the festive celebration will begin with the sumptuous dinner and then followed by the gift-giving, but in the true Italian style, the gifts were only exchanged on January 6 or the day of Epiphany.
But then whether the gifts are maybe given on the night before Christmas, the Christmas day, or the day of Epiphany, it is still the spirit of giving that we look forward to during this Special season and of course the birth of our savior Jesus Christ.
Buon Natale e Buone feste!!!