Christmas Traditions in Italy

Let’s face it.  It’s a crazy time of year.   Parties, cards, gifts, holiday concerts, baking, packing, mailing gifts, moving the damn Elf on the Shelf. Things are downright insane.  It’s a shame really because what I want to do every year is slow it all down and really enjoy the season.  Unfortunately, according to my husband, I am afflicted with the Jenga disease.  You know the game Jenga, where you stack wooden blocks higher and higher until the entire thing collapses?   I am the Jenga game when it comes to the holidays. 

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Italy's Most Beautiful Christmas Tradition


The presepe or nativity scene made its first appearance in 1223 in the tiny village of Grecio in Umbria when it is said that Saint Francis wanted to depict the scene ofJesus’ birth to the towns people and from that time on, the nativity scene has been an integral part of the Italian Christmas tradition.  The elaborate models, some life size and some in miniature, are erected on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception (December 8).  On Christmas Eve the baby Jesus is added to the display and finally on Epiphany (January 6) you will witness the “arrival” of the Three Kings.  The detail and beauty of these crèche scenes are remarkable. You can see them in the piazza and inside churches, often indicated by a shooting star placed over the door inviting you to come in.  The scenes have waterfalls, moving parts, nods to modern culture (I saw one with an Obama figurine this year) and twinkling stars lighting up the sky.  One can’t help but be moved.  

The most remarkable of all the nativity scenes I have witnessed over my years in Italy was the living nativity that I went to on a windy and cold Christmas Eve.  From Assisi we made our way to Armezano, another little hilltown which for the time being had been transformed into the town of Bethlehem.  With our hands wrapped around terra cotta cups of hot mulled wine we made our way through the village. There were sheep and goats milling about, big torches lit the way and every member of the town was dressed in period costume. We walked through town and were drawn into the stable where Mary, Joseph and Baby Jesus sat on the ground with only a pile of hay as cushioning.  There was a warm glow in the barn and a sense of peace and love that I found almost miraculous.  Merry Christmas indeed. 

Peace and love to you all,


Foodie Friday: Hooray! It's Pandoro Season!

Pandoro Italian Food.JPG

The holiday season is upon us.  There is nothing more comforting to me than the traditions that come with this time of year.  Call me boring, a stick in the mud, a conformist but I remain loyal to the classics:  mistletoe, O Come All Ye Faithful, peppermint stick ice cream, beef tenderloin for Christmas dinner. Naturally, the Italians have their own traditions and it was delightful to spend the holidays in another country and experience a whole new way of celebrating.  There are many beautiful traditions in Italy - the creche, magnificent store windows, living nativity scenes throughout the countryside and all sorts of culinary delights.   As the weather turns cold, I find myself waxing nostalgic for the most telling sign of the arrival of the Christmas season: pandoro and panettone.   These buttery Christmas cakes come in gorgeous cardboard boxes and wrappings and can be found in any food shop or bar in Italy from the beginning of December on.  Panettone is studded with candied fruit while pandoro is a plain cake dusted with powdered sugar.  When I studied in Florence,  I arrived at my host family's house in the middle of January.  There was a tower of panettone and pandoro boxes stacked in the corner of the kitchen.  Apparently these Christmas cakes are the Italian answer to a housewarming gift and my family had obviously hosted a LOT of holiday parties. We ate a lot of pandoro that first month - breakfast, dessert and snacks -  and while I had my fill of them at the time, I still love the buttery, simple flavor with a cup of coffee.  You can imagine my delight when I found miniature cakes at my local Italian cafe this week!

The pandoro is made in a star shaped pan but if you cut it horizontally, you can make it look like a Christmas tree.  I scooped up three of them and made a cute, edible centerpiece that made our kitchen table look very festive.  

Unfortunately, the centerpiece did not remain on the table very long.   It seems that Bella the hound is also a big fan of pandoro.  

Leave me a comment and let me know how you are incorporating traditions into your celebrations this year. 

Tastefully yours,