Christmas in Emilia-Romagna by Matteo Polgrossi, Marketing Manager
Relatives, friends, endless dinners, bingo, and card games. Spending Christmas in Emilia Romagna is a marathon.
It all starts on the 8th December when, celebrating the feast of the Immaculate Conception, families gather for a festive meal and to put up Christmas decorations (both a tree and a nativity are essential).
The following couple of weeks are a succession of dinners with friends that give your stomach an indication of what to expect. This test of endurance is followed by the so-called “Cena della vigilia di Natale” (Christmas Eve dinner) a seafood-based meal.
In the past, this was the ‘light’ dinner before the big day but these days it has become another opportunity to eat a 4,000 calorie meal!
When you think you have had enough, you are mistaken. Here it comes: Christmas Day! A whole day dedicated to a multi-course banquet, with dozens of family members working together to create celebratory dishes and a serious sense of occasion.
Lasagne, Passatelli, mixed, boiled, and roasted meat, and Panone di Natale (a traditional dessert with raisins, fruit mostarda, dried fruits) are some of the dishes commonly part of the menu. However, in Emilia Romagna the highlight is Tortellini in Brodo which must be made from scratch and is usually cooked and served in a clear chicken broth (or brodo). Forget about the ready-made packs sold in the supermarkets!
In the past this was also the day where the ‘head of the family’ lit up ‘il ceppo di Natale’: a huge wooden log that burns for days. The ashes are used throughout the year, supposedly to benefit agriculture and breeding. These days people mainly just light up their cookers! This is one of the traditions that is sadly fading and is mainly just enjoyed in the countryside.
After Christmas you will have a few days where you can rest and get ready for the New Year’s Eve party. But when it comes to traditions in Emilia Romagna, it is the first day of the year that really matters.
First of all, women and girls stay at home while boys and men go house-by-house to wish Happy New Year. They will be offered sweets and coffee and money if you are a kid. This happens because the (sexist) tradition states that if the first person who shows up on your doorstep on that day is a woman, it will be considered as a sign of misfortune for the coming year.
New year’s day lunch is (unsurprisingly) another big one including tortellini, lentils and cotechino (a big pork sausage) accompanied by a few white grapes for good luck!
Christmas in Milan, by Monica Polinelli, Market Trader for Islington
Officially, Christmas time in Milan starts on the 8th of December – Sant’ Ambrogio day. An afternoon walk in the city center is mandatory. Unmissable sights are: the Christmas tree and the market in Piazza Duomo, the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, the Castello Sforzesco and, of course, a hot chocolate with whipped cream in the café nearby!
Christmas traditions in Italy are different, they vary between regions, towns and families.
My family has a nice seafood dinner on the 24th and then, everybody goes to bed pretty early, to give time to Santa Claus (Babbo Natale in Italy) to pass and leave presents under the Christmas tree, and we never forget to leave milk, water and biscuits for Babbo Natale and his reindeer!
On the 25th, early in the morning, it’s present time!
All the presents are under the Christmas tree and we start to unwrap them while we are still wearing pyjamas, before having breakfast.
After that, the party starts! The house is buzzing, everybody starts cooking and setting up tables for the festive lunch with relatives. Everybody is cooking and bringing something, usually we have starters, lasagna, roasted potatoes, meat, and dried fruit. The menu changes every year but we always end with Panettone, the traditional buttery, vanilla-flavoured Christmas bread-like cake, invented in Milan!
Another Italian tradition, that closes the Christmas period, is the religious Feast of the Epiphany, or La Befana, on the 6th of January. La Befana is a witch who rides her broom and, in the night, brings sweets to well behaved children or coal to naughty kids. The sweets or coal are left in empty socks hung in the house by the kids the night before the Befana is coming.