Here’s our countdown to creating a perfect Italian Christmas full of food, friends and fun.
How do you celebrate Christmas? In Italy, we have dozens of special traditions that we love to uphold during the festive season, some of which go back hundreds of years.
More importantly perhaps, when do you start to celebrate Christmas? Are you the type of person who puts their decorations up in November or do you wait until Christmas Eve before officially acknowledging the festive season?
Whatever option you prefer, it’s important to plan for the various aspects of Christmas, from what food to eat to who to invite to your Christmas party, to what presents to buy and what clothes to wear.
Start with a list
Make a list, or several, to ensure you don’t forget anything important. That means planning the menu in advance, and making sure you tick off all the ingredients as you buy them, to ensure that nothing gets forgotten about. It’s also vital to write a gift list and think about accessories you might need, for example, will you need to stock up on batteries for the children’s new toys?
The very act of marking off completed tasks will help you to feel in control. Make lists for gift-giving, card sending, meal planning and decorating.
Three weeks to go
Write your cards and address them, even if you don’t plan on posting or delivering them just yet. As the weeks go by, you’ll find yourself getting busier and busier, so grab a few hours now while you can. Put on some Christmas music or a festive movie to help you get in the mood and don’t forget to keep some blank cards handy in case you get an unexpected card and are expected to reciprocate.
Buy wrapping paper and start to wrap gifts as you buy them. Doing it now is a time-saving tactic that means you can purchase and wrap at your own pace without getting stressed – and if you run out of wrapping paper you still have plenty of time to stock up on some more.
Do you need to buy new decorations? Do the lights for the Christmas tree still work or will they need to be replaced? Now is also the time to play any baking that you need to do.
In Italy, on 8 December, we celebrate the traditional start of the Christmas season with the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, ‘Immacolata’. It’s a national holiday, meaning that banks and many workplaces are closed, so we use the free time to go to church or do a bit of shopping at the local Christmas market. It’s also the day when, traditionally, we put up our decorations.
Two weeks to go
Now is the time to start shopping for food, especially non-perishable items such as tinned and bottled foods. Have you written a list that covers all meals – from nibbles to Christmas Day and Boxing Day dinners?
Make sure you have plenty of party food, as you never know when friends or relatives will pop by. We recommend Prosciutto di San Daniele, to serve with melon as a starter for a sit-down meal. You can also wrap it around grissini (breadsticks) or serve it with cheese on a party platter.
While the traditional Panettone will grace many tables across Italy, in our Friuli Venezia Giulia region we also enjoy the Gubana cake. A delicious treat, the Gubana is filled with pine nuts, sultanas and crushed walnuts and it’s our custom to pour local grappa or plum brandy over it before eating.
Don’t forget to add alcohol to your shopping list – start seeking inspiration for Christmas cocktails and make sure you have enough soft drinks in store for guests and family members who don’t drink alcohol.
This is also a good time to think about what you are going to wear – are all your party outfits clean? Do any need mended? Do it now and avoid a panic on the day.
One week to go
Start picking up the more perishable items of food and last minute stocking-fillers. It’s also a good idea to have a spare gift wrapped and ready to give to a guest if they turn up with a present for you and you realise you didn’t get them one! A scented candle is a great all-purpose gift to give.
Purchase a festive poinsettia plant for your home. The tradition of buying poinsettia originates in Italy.
On Christmas Eve, children all over the world hanging up their stockings and looking forward to seeing what Santa has brought them. In Italy, we call him Babbo Natale, and while he may also bring some gifts for children on Epiphany, on 6 January, it is Christmas Eve when we really celebrate gift-giving in Italy.
Italian families also get together for an evening meal on Christmas Eve, and it’s such a long and enjoyable affair that it can often run to six or seven courses and last until it’s time to go to Midnight Mass. Since Christmas is a religious festival in Italy, we tend to avoid eating meat for this meal, preferring fish and vegetables instead.
All your planning and hard work has been for this – so, even though the day may be busy, remember to enjoy it. There are only 364 days until you have to do it again!