Tag Archives: christmas traditions

Another Reason to Be Good – Santa Lucia ;)

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Kids, pay heed! It’s once again time to be good if you want to get candies and cookies and other goodies for the feast day of Santa Lucia on December 13th! With all these opportunities for getting gifts in exchange for being good (and avoiding that nasty gift of coal for being bad), it seems to me that December must be the most well-behaved month of the year! Perhaps some of these holidays should be spread out during the year so that the goodness can last a bit longer ūüôā

The feast day of Santa Lucia is celebrated in various parts of Italy and in very different ways. In Sicily, where she was actually born and martyred, they celebrate her feast day with religious processions and special food. Legend has it that back in 1582, a severe famine miraculously ended on her feast day when ships loaded with grain entered the harbor. The people were so hungry that they didn’t take the time to grind the grain into flour, but boiled the grains immediately. Because of this, Sicilians, even to this day, will not eat anything made with flour on her feast day. No bread, no pasta! Instead, they make a traditional dish called cuccia. Everyone makes their cuccia a bit differently and the women have their kids bring their version to all the neighbors to sample. Here is one recipe, which sounds delicious and is tempting me to try it soon…

Cuccia

500 g. whole wheat (not ground)
500 g. ricotta
250 g sugar
salt
cinnamon
vanilla
candied fruits and/or chocolate chips

Soften the whole wheat for 2 days in water. After the 2 days, boil the wheat with a little bit of salt added to the water for at least an hour until it is cooked. Drain the wheat and let it settle for an hour before proceeding.
Meanwhile drain the ricotta until it is dry. Once dry, add the sugar, cinnamon, and vanilla and mix well (an electric mixer works well for this.) Stir in the candied fruits and/or chocolate chips.
Add the wheat mixture and mix it all up. Portion the mixture into individual bowls and sprinkle with cinnamon.

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The feast day of Santa Lucia is also celebrated in North-Eastern Italy, but in a totally different way. The traditional food eaten here is goose, and she is the one that brings gifts to the good boys and girls. She brings sweets and candies to the good ones, and guess what she brings to those not so good? Yep, once again they get coal!

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According to tradition, she arrives during the night between Dec. 12th and Dec. 13th in the company of a donkey and her escort, Castaldo. Children are asked to leave coffee for Lucia, a carrot for the donkey, and a glass of wine for Castaldo. In exchange, she leaves candies and sweets for the children. But don’t get any ideas of catching a glimpse of her – if she sees you, she will throw ash in your eyes! Yikes!

When I asked my mom about her memories of Santa Lucia, the only thing she came up with was this little rhyme:
Santa Lucia – il giorno piu corto che ci sia! (Santa Lucia – the shortest day there is). I always thought the shortest day was December 21st…hmm…maybe I’ve been wrong all these years! Obviously, my mom didn’t grow up in one of the places where her feast day was heavily celebrated!

This very traditional Italian song, Santa Lucia, is always one that brings me back to my childhood when these songs were always sung at gatherings at the Italian Social Club my parents belonged to in San Francisco.  And of course, when Andrea Bocelli sings it, I can swoon!

The Italian Holiday Celebrations Begin…

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The month of December, and continuing into the beginning of January, is filled with many Italian traditions that make up the Christmas holiday season in Italy.  The first of these holidays is the feast of St. Nicholas (San Nicola) on December 6th.

This feast is not celebrated in all parts of Italy, but where it is, great traditions take place.  Bari in Southern Italy is THE place to be if you want to celebrate the feast of St. Nicholas.

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This is his city as this is where his remains were put after they were heisted from Myra.  A huge basilica sits here in his honor.

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On December 6th, young girls wishing to get married, petition the saint to act on their behalf by placing a note and three coins in a special box in the basilica in hopes that their wish will be granted.  Children, on the other hand, have other desires.  They put a plate out (much like our children do with Santa Claus on Christmas Eve) with a note asking for sweet gifts if they promise to be good for the coming year.  They go to bed with the hopes that they will find some goodies the next morning.  San Nicola comes in the middle of the night and leaves piles and piles of chocolates, candies, cookies, and other sweet delights for all the good boys and girls.

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The feast of St. Nicholas is also celebrated up in Trieste in Northern Italy.  The traditions were brought here probably due to the strong trade relationships that this city had with Bari.  Here the grandfathers dress up like the saint and give presents of sugar to all the good children, while they give coal to all those that have been bad.  I wonder how much coal they actually give out!

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Christmas Traditions Old and New

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It’s that time, once again, for the nostalgic thoughts that this Christmas season¬†brings to¬† mind.¬† I am reminded of so many Christmas traditions which I grew up with, but also new ones that I have now made into traditions.¬† It seems that every generation adds something new to their Christmas.

Here are some old Italian traditions passed down from my parents:

My presepe (the Creche):

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Panettone – the traditional Italian Christmas bread which is enjoyed with a cup of coffee or even better, with a glass of Asti Spumante or Champagne:

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And, of course, the Christmas tree and all the house decorations:

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A new tradition that makes up our family’s Christmas is spending a night in San Francisco to take in the vibrant Holiday scene and decorations.

Union Square - San Francisco

Union Square – San Francisco

The Hyatt Regency - San Francisco

The Hyatt Regency – San Francisco

The Palace Hotel - San Francisco

The Palace Hotel – San Francisco

Another of the new traditions that I have made my own is the formal Christmas Eve dinner.¬† As a child, we always celebrated Christmas Day and never Christmas Eve.¬† This made for a very busy Christmas Day:¬† present opening in the morning, rushing off to Mass, and then going to my aunt’s house for the big dinner.¬†¬†This is how it was done in Northern Italy where my family is from and so they carried on the tradition when they came here. But when I got married, my husband’s family always celebrated Christmas Eve with a formal dinner followed by Midnight Mass.¬† I loved this tradition and so have made it my own.¬† I love the look of the elegant table lit by candles and with the glow of the Christmas tree in the background.¬† As families come together from different backgrounds, the best of the best becomes part of the Christmas traditions to be passed down to the next generation.¬† I’ll be anxious to see what becomes their new Christmas traditons!

Buon Natale, my dear readers, and may this Holiday season bring you all the magic of Christmas!

Il Grande Panettone!!

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A casa mia (at my house), it just isn’t Christmas without the obligatory panettone!¬† Growing up, we could only get this special treat at Italian markets, where it was flown in especially for the Holidays.¬† Today, thankfully, it can be found almost anywhere.¬†

Panettone originated in Milan, but quickly became a Holiday staple throughout Italy and Latin America.¬† A legend has it that during the 15th century,¬† a nobleman si innamoro` (fell in love) with a baker’s daughter.¬† In order to win her love, he disguised himself as un panettiere (a baker) and invented the panettone!¬† This just proves that all great inventions are on account of amore (love)!

Panettone translates to “large bread”, and that is a great description of it.¬† It has a domed top and is a light sweet bread with raisins and dried orange and lemon¬†rinds.¬† The best way to enjoy it is with a glass of spumante or sciampagna (champagne)!!¬† Here’s to Natale!¬† Cin, cin ūüôā