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All things Sicilian

A traditional Sicilian Christmas

Villas in Sicily for Christmas and New Year >>

Christmas celebrations in Sicily begin in earnest on 8th December, when families traditionally start decorating their homes for the festive season. While Christmas trees are now common, it was only during the 2nd World War, during the Allied occupation that they first became popular.

A much more widespread custom is the nativity scene, invented, so they say, by Saint Francis of Assisi. While popular all over Italy, Sicily is probably second only to Napoli in the magnificence of its “Presepi”, which can be found in most homes and the vast majority of churches. One of the most intriguing nativity scenes on the island is the “Presepe Vivente” in Custonaci, between Trapani and San Vito lo Capo. Here, deep in the enormous Mangiapane cave, is a little hamlet which, until about 60 years ago was still inhabited. Now it provides an extremely evocative backdrop for the Presepe, in which the locals dress up and re-enact the Nativity from 25th December to Epiphany.

Another wonderful tradition that can be seen in many small towns, such as Isnello and Collesano in the Madonie mountains, is the night of the Luminari on 24th December when large bonfires are lit to keep baby Jesus warm.

Gastronomically speaking, there is no one particular dish that all Sicilians eat at Christmas. However, such important festivities call for groaning tables and banquets of Epicurean proportions. Serious eating begins on the evening of 24th December and continues for 24 hours. As might be expected in the land of cassata and cannoli, sweets and desserts are of tantamount importance. The most traditional of these are buccellati, large round biscuits filled with almonds, pistachios and dried fruits. Presents are opened after dinner on Christmas Eve and huge family gatherings are considered par for the course.

If all that wasn’t enough, barely a week later it is time for another “cenone” (literally big dinner) to celebrate the New Year. Traditionally lasagne is supposed to bring good luck (though other types of pasta certainly won’t!) but more and more people are now turning to the more Italian tradition of eating lentils, which auger wealth. However, once more, what you eat is not so important – the essential thing is that there must be copious quantities and that at midnight a bottle or two of spumante are chilled to perfection and ready to pop.

The final curtain comes down on Christmas on Epiphany on 6th January. Children jiggle with excitement as they wait for the arrival of La Beffana an ugly witch-like figure who distributes sweets to children who have been good, and coal to those who have not.

Villas in Sicily for Christmas and New Year >>

Christmas at the Teatro Massimo Snow in the mountains Fairy lights on palm trees Teatro Politeama lights up