December 15th 2009

We asked our Italian Walk Leaders and Managers to share their favorite Christmas Traditions and here is the definitive list: 1. The making of the Christmas crib or nativity (presepe). Every family prepares their own, some with a very detailed village and scenery often hand made . The old Neapolitan tradition holds that the main characters are hand made by local craftsmen with papier mache’ and the clothes are done with starched garments They also reproduce the craftsmen from the carpenter to the butcher, with their work shops. In Naples especially, the churches are known for their nativity scenes and Paolo recommends visiting the street called San Gregorio Armeno for a special nativity display. Marina remembers, "Everything was displayed on a "bed" of real musk , with (fake) tiny palm trees . Part of the enjoyment was a walk across the country to collect up the musk, and a hot chocolate after it!" Vincenzo notes 'One thing that many people don’t know is that the tradition dictates that the grotto should remain empty until the 24th where before midnight all the family parades in line singing hymns all through the house with the youngest of the family carreing the new born Jesus(figurine) in to the grotto. But in Amalfi is a bit special. We anticipate the birth of Jesus to 11:30/45 when we all go out to gather in the piazza and to be precise on the church steps to assist the descent from the mountain opposite the church (Mount Tabor) of a big comet wich is all lit with fireworks. To give you a better idea I can tell you that we are talking of over 1000 people of all ages and a comet of over 65 feet.' 2. For entertainment we play with Tombola ( bingo ) and with neapolitan cards at ‘’sette e mezzo’’ just with small money in coins . The tombola is a game of luck ,which is based on the mysticism of numbers and their connection to dreams. In Naples, every number has been assigned a certain symbol and has a certain meaning; for example 16 stands for the bottom ,or 22 stands for the crazy person. A player draws numbers from a little basket and tells a funny or exciting story based on the symbols. Each player has a board with a specific combination of numbers, and the person who completes his or her number combination first is the winner. In other words just like Bingo but much much more colorful. 3. Midnight mass on Christmas eve 4. The Food! The Meals -The cakes - The wine - Food A very important part of our Italian festivities. On Christmas eve, no meat is consumed, only fish . So we start with mixed fried baccala’ (salt cod), Artichokes , cabbages , apples, prawns (shrimp). Pasta with clams or other seafood. The main course can be any fish. The typical menu for Christmas Day is prosciutto tortellini in meat broth, a roast of either Lamb or pork and boiled beef or chicken in broth accompanied by mayonnaise. Our famous cakes are panettone with candied fruit and raisins , pandoro a simple cake with a star shape, Torrone ( nougat ) panpepato , Panforte ( thick cakes done with dried fruit, nuts, almonds ) and struffoli. We make a toast with Italian sparkling wine (spumante or prosecco), which goes very well with the cakes! 5. On the 6th of January we celebrate La Befana (the witch), she flies on her broom to bring sweets to the children but the naughty ones only receive coal. 6. Bonfires - in Tuscany many of the villages have bonfires during Christmas and everyone gathers round singing and enjoying the atmosphere of the evening. 7. Babbo natale (aka Saint Nicolas, Father Christmas or Santa Claus) 8. Christmas trees! But only since the 1950's. Presents are placed under the Christmas tree on the day before Christmas and aren't opened until after the meal on Christmas Day. Thank you to Anna, Helena, Paolo, Jock, Alessandro, Lesley, Marina and Vincenzo for sharing your favorite traditions with us!

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