The Italian Christmas presepe

My Christmas presepe.

My Christmas presepe.

The Nativity, or presepe, is a wide spread and well-known symbol of the religious Italian Christmas spirit. It is not only a religious expression, however, but is at the heart of Italian heritage and tradition in general.

Many people put out a presepe at home in Italy as Americans would put up a Christmas tree here in the US. At the heart of the presepe is the manger with baby Jesus, surrounded by Mary, Joseph, the Wise Men and some farm animals. From there, Italians let their imaginations run wild, with some recreating entire villages complete with buildings, streets and entire scenes of everyday life. And the presepe is not just a home decoration. Many towns in Italy pride themselves on the presepe that they create for public display, some towns even re-enacting a presepe vivente, or living presepe, with actual people.

For me the presepe is at the center of my childhood holiday memories. My nonni used to build an entire elaborate scene, with hills and ravines and trails dotted with characters and animals, a night sky where they would hang the Star of Bethlehem, all meant to highlight the manger with baby Jesus. To this day I still put on display my own miniature version of the presepe, my way of keeping alive the tradition passed down to me by them. And isn’t that, after all, what traditions are all about?

Arrivederci,

Teresa

Italian Christmas culinary traditions

Traditional cavizungidd from my hometown.

Traditional cavizungidd from my hometown.

With Christmas just around the corner, my family - like so many others both here and in Italy - is starting to make preparations for all of the traditional foods that will be devoured during the holiday season. This is a time for friends and family to come together and cook and eat and drink and cook and eat and drink some more. That's actually pretty much all we do.

In my family we have a time-honored tradition that, over the years, has come to be known as dough night. This is the night - which occurs about a week before Christmas - when all of our traditional fried specialties get made. From the cavizungidd (fried ravioli stuffed with a chocolate/chestnut/cooked wine filling) to the pettole (fried savory dough), it is a night that brings us back home to our southern italian roots. Even though my nonna is no longer with us, we still follow all of her hand-written recipes from her black and white composition notebook and criticize each other's techniques, just like she would have done! It's a great night and a great time for everyone involved! 

What are some of the Christmas traditions you're looking forward to most?

Arrivederci,

Teresa