In the countless times I’ve traveled in Italy, I’ve been there three times during the Christmas holiday season. Once, the girls and I stayed there for a week between Christmas and Capodanno (or the New Year). We had a magical time together, walking the brightly lit streets of Rome every day and night.
It’s easy to be on a vacation high, especially in Italy, but I asked myself how could I capture this spirit at home? Why do Italians love this season so much and how do they make it so special?
Like so many, the older I get, the more I respect traditions. They define the season and I look forward to them every year. In a country where change is very, very slow, Italians value the traditions of the season What would Christmas be without Babbo Natale or Santa Claus? Why do lights across the street, or on the lamp post, or the tree make us so happy? And why are the people we eat holiday meals with every year so important?
As with all Italian holidays, there are distinct menus. Whether it’s the lasagna or the strufoli or the panettone, they all have an important role. This is just another tradition, but one worth mentioning separately because the time and care dedicated to these dishes amplifies their importance. The feast of the seven fishes (La Vigilia) on Christmas Eve; the feast of San Silvestro on New Year’s Eve; and La Befana for the Epiphany on January 6th are all separate menus. Every year cooks all over the country try to make these menus as well or even better than the year before. They include closely guarded recipes passed down through the generations. But every year, millions of people gather to eat the same foods with the same people and laugh and enjoy like they didn’t just do the same thing twelve months earlier.
This year, I’m going to celebrate these traditions I love so much by creating a series of traditional holiday recipes, in memory of my Mom. We lost her this year, but she left us with a legacy of traditions that is so rich and so special, they just need to be passed on. I’ll be posting them regularly, so we will all be ready with some great new traditions, just in time for Christmas. Check out the first one here for Fresh Cod Oreganata.