Christmas in Padova.
Growing up in Australia, Christmas has a very different vibe to its northern hemisphere friends. Instead of freezing our butts off in a cold or white Christmas and building snowmen, typically we are playing cricket at the beach and building sandcastles.
Personally, Christmas in Australia will always be special because it’s home but there’s just something magical about a European Christmas that gets me every year. I’m about to spend my fourth Christmas in Italy, so I thought I would share with you what it’s like spending the festive season in the land of carbs.
Bolzano Christmas markets via Walks of Italy.
Walking around an Italian city in December is a magical experience, and part of what makes it so magical are the Christmas markets. Regardless of how large or small a town is, there are always some kind of Christmas markets throughout the festive season.
Typically, they start popping up the first weekend of December and generally run through to January 6, which marks the Italian celebration of La Befana. Ordinarily, the markets occupy one of the town square’s and consist of wooden hut like stalls selling vin brule (mulled wine), Italian sweets and treats, Christmas decorations and paraphernalia and often stalls selling products from local producers and designers.
Not only do they give the city a very Christmassy feel, but it also makes for a great atmosphere and a fun way to spend an afternoon with family and friends.
Christmas in Prato della Valle a couple of years ago.
I have to admit, us Aussie’s are pretty great on the decoration front. We even have entire suburbs that come together and decorate their houses in all kinds of Christmas goodness. For all my Sydney side readers, you should definitely check out Mount Annan or Chipping Norton.
It Italy, decorations on individual houses are far and few in between. Mainly because if you live in a city, it’s very much apartment style living as opposed to houses. However, what Italy does do well is their street decorations.
At the moment, Padova city centre is a magical land of fairy lights. I am a huge sucker for fairy lights so it’s absolute heaven for me. Shops join in on the decorating, and most state buildings are lit up and are beautifully decorated. And, of course, there’s always a massive Christmas tree which has a lighting ceremony with carols and a big affair.
Soup with tortellini via Huffington Post.
Food is definitely something that’s the most different when it comes to Christmas in Italy. Like most cultures and countries, Italy have their own traditions and festive dishes and they differ significantly to those of Australia.
As an Aussie, Christmas lunch or dinner consists of a lot of fresh seafood, BBQ’s, a giant leg of ham (my family recipe includes copious amounts of pineapple juice and brown sugar, it’s amazing), trifle and of course the beloved pavlova.
In Italy, a typical Christmas Day lunch is a four course affair and usually starts around lunch time, carrying on well into the evening. I asked a couple of Italian friends what their usual Christmas Day menu is and most had the same dishes.
Here is an example of a typical Italian Christmas Day feast:
Antipasti plates that include a variety of cured meats and cheeses, typically locally sourced or made. And, of course a wide range of accompaniments like olives, sundried tomatoes, crusty and delicious bread and a variety of chutneys and marmalades.
In true Italian style, first course always consists of either soup or pasta. A very typical winter and Christmas dish is to boil meat (usually beef, chicken or sausage) in stock. The meat is used for the main course, and the stock is used as a soup for the first course. Once the meat is removed, vegetables or pasta can be added to the broth, for example and very common, tortellini.
Another very traditional first course is pasticcio or also known as lasagne to us westerners. Here in Italy pasticcio comes in many different flavours including the original meat and béchamel flavour, chicory and béchamel and spinach and gorgonzola to name a few.
Main course always consists of meat and a wide variety of sides including salads, rice (barley, quinoa etc) and vegetables. The meat varies from family to family, but as I mentioned earlier a very typical dish is called Cotechino. Essentially, Cotecchino is a large sausage boiled in stock which is then cut up into slices and served with vegetables, most of the time lentils. Others may choose to roast meat like veal and beef, both of which are very common at Christmas.
Cotechino and lentils.
For dessert an Italian Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without panettone and pandoro. For those of you not familiar with panettone and pandoro, they are both very traditional Italian cakes which are eaten at Christmas and Easter time. Panettone is a brioche like cake usually filled with dried fruit but can also come in different flavours such as chocolate. And, pandoro is a plain, more sponge like cake topped with icing sugar.
Both are usually served with an assortment of sauces which include custard (or crema in Italian), mascarpone or chantilly cream and fruit reductions such as apple or mixed berry sauce.
Other traditional food synonymous with Christmas in Italy also include roasted chestnuts, nougat or torrone as it’s called in Italian, caramelised nuts and my favourite, frittele. Frittele are basically a donut but instead of a round ball like shape, they are round and flat. Personally, I like them plain with a dusting of sugar but you can order them with a range of toppings including Nutella and custard.
And there you have it, an Italian Christmas Day feast! Now, I just to find a friendly Italian family to invite us for Christmas 😉