Here's a blog entry from my new friend, Alessandro Cagossi, who gives us some insight into Christmas northern Italian-style.
By Alessandro Cagossi
The essence of Christmas Day for all Italians is family and food, “la famiglia e il cibo”. However, in Italy there are twenty regions with twenty different traditions to celebrate Christmas, sometimes similar, sometimes very different. I come from Emilia, a region in northern Italy that is known as “the food valley”. The food tradition includes lasagne, tagliatelle, tortelli, ravioli, prosciutto, parmigiano-reggiano, mortadella and many more.
The holiday tradition starts December 8, with the day dedicated to the devotion of Mary. Many people visit cemeteries praying for lovely ones that passed the way.
December 13th is St. Lucy's Day (“La Festa di Santa Lucia”), with traditional exchange of gifts. In my region, Saint Lucy is the main occasion that makes kids happy, much more than the Epiphany, when a witch named Befana pleases kids with gifts, closing the whole festivity period.
So Christmas is an occasion to reunite the family under huge manger scenes. December 24, Christmas Eve (“La Vigilia di Natale”) is a day of abstinence from meat, so as a first dish we have dumplings with pumpkins (“tortelli di zucca”, I am sure Americans would appreciate them). The second dish consists largely of fish with "Anguilla" a big female eel, roasted, baked or fried and baccalà. These dishes are served with mostarda emiliana, a sort of spicy fruit jelly. We finish with fruit, as a sign of good fortune. After dinner, some attend midnight mass.
December 25, lunch on Christmas Day is a long affair. Delicacies such as cappelletti (a sort of small tortellini) in capon broth, boiled capon, zampone, a pig's foot filled with spiced meat, or cotechino, a sausage made from pig's intestines, are particularly popular in Emilia. Vegetables are dipped with balsamic vinegar. Finally, in my region the Christmas sweets are the "panettone" (cake filled with candied fruit), "torrone" (nougat) and "spongata" a sort of panforte made with hazelnuts, honey and almonds, signs of good fortune.
December 26, Saint Stephen's Day, can be another occasion to share a lunch with family.
During the celebration of the New Year's Day, another tradition is the burning of the Yule log. This is an example of pagan and Christian blending.
Finally, January 6 is the Epiphany (“La Festa dell'Epifania”) the holiday that closes the festivity period. This is the last occasion to have another lunch together.
The Cagossi’s family reunited for a Christmas lunch.