Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Everything you'll ever need to know about Christmas in Italy

Last year I went to a lot of trouble to make this Christmas photo reportage special on Christmas in Italy and practically nobody read it. So I am re-posting it again. Enjoy! See you in the New Year!


I am walking through the centre of Milan at 6.10pm on a Saturday. It is pitch black. There is an enormous crowd in front of the Duomo. What the hell is going on? Why can't I see anything and why are there so many people here? Then I see a sign advertising a "light show" at 6pm. I decide to hang around. Nothing happens. It really is very dark. We go to the English pub "The Football".

The next day I'm still asking "Where are the Christmas lights"?  What's up with Milan? It's a really poor effort. The street decorations that they do have look like giant chicken nuggets and they don't even light up.  The Christmas market isn't a patch on the one in Trento either. The metro was insanely packed when we went because people from all over the place come to have a look at the "Oh Bei Oh Bei". This is an ancient Christmas tradition here, and is supposed to sell all sorts of exciting christmassy artistic things, but this year they decided to move it away from it's home in the atmospheric Sant Ambrogio and put it in front of the Castle. It was a  bit of an anti-climax, a few white tents selling things that had very little to do with Christmas, (bed side table lamps and buddhas of all things). They did at least have hot chestnuts.

Christmas here is more about the eating and the presents than carols and fairy lights. The shops are heaving and everyone's favourite topic of conversation is the perennial question "Which is better, pandoro (a sweet bread with icing sugar) or panettone (a sweet bread with dried fruit)?" Everyone has long made up their minds about the answer (panettone)  but everybody argues about it every year anyway.

Another thing Italy is really into are nativity scenes. Any self resepecting town has an enormous life size nativity scene with at least 10 characters. Any self respecting family will DIY their own. The shops are even selling mini bags of hay, moss and gravel. My friend M's parents have one that takes up two tables with easily a 100 parts to it.

Oh, and by the way, if an Italian goes to the trouble of writing a Christmas card you should for heavens sake keep it. The first Christmas I came to Italy I caused great offence by throwing the tag on my present in the bin a few days later, where it was discovered by A's distraught father. With hindsight, I now understand the 20 minute negotiations and agonising that A and his sister went through when writing Papa's birthday card. He'll probably keep it for twenty years. 

I know, I know, I'm sorry. I'm such a heathen. What can I do though? I can't help being English! I haven't yet spent Christmas in Italy so I have done a little interview with A to satisfy your curiosity instead...

L. "You eat Christmas dinner on the 24th don't you?"

A. "Yes, you eat your Christmas dinner on the 24th, pasta, fish (fried or in the oven) then you go to mass, then you go to sleep, then you open your presents, (well there are two versions, you might open your presents and and then go to bed) then you go to lunch and have something meat based. You usually eat a lot and end up with panettone."

L."Do you eat in the evening as well?"

A: "Well, I usually go to my rich uncle's and we eat sweets and panettone, but then last year I went to my trendy uncle's and we drank champagne and ate panettone."

I hope that was informative. Buon Natale!

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