December 25th is coming and if you are seeking a place that mixes mild weather and magical atmosphere, book a trip and celebrate Christmas in Sicily with Sicilian Secrets.
Nativity scenes, lights, Xmas trees and many traditions make this period very special: it doesn’t matter if you will stay in a big city such as Palermo or Catania, in a resort or in a small town, you will feel Christmas on your skin. Christmas in Sicily lasts more than a day, in fact several celebrations begin on December 8th (Feast of the Immaculate Conception) when people start decorating their houses and adorn the Xmas tree. Did you know that it became popular only after the II World War?
In fact, a much more common Sicilian tradition is the Nativity scene (in Italian it’s called Presepe). They say that Saint Francis invented it…who knows! In any case, if you visit churches around Sicily, you can find them inside but probably you will be surprised to find a couple of Nativity scenes even under the sea or in other weird places.
Moreover, even the so-called Presepi viventi (living nativity scenes) are pretty diffused: local people dress up and re-enact the Nativity from December 25th to January 6th. One the most beautiful is organized in Custonaci (in the province of Trapani), otherwise I strongly suggest you enjoying this tradition in Ispica (in the procince of Ragusa). Every year, in fact, about forty scenes are presented in the Parco Forza area of the Cava d’Ispica, between Ispica and Modica. The rocky cliffs and catacombs make it the perfect spot, don’t miss them!
Christmas in Sicily is even more: for example, do you like the magic of lights? In many small villages such as Collesano and Isnello, on December 24th people celebrate the night of the so-called Luminari. They light a bunch of large bonfires to keep baby Jesus warm.
The festive period on the island is characterized by unique customs: here is why Sicily should be your destination for Xmas.
During these weeks, you will discover a lot about history and traditions.
Do you expect that Christmas carolers will knock at your door? In Sicily you will see the zampognari, in other words they are those men who play the zampogna, a sort of bagpipe. Around the small towns, they are used to go from door to door playing a tune, for which they usually get a tip.
Christmas in Sicily is a good period to feel the spirit of holiday season: you can choose to stay close to the sea or go to the mountains. Do you like skiing? Mount Etna is waiting for you! Beauty and wonder, that’s Sicily!
…what about food?
I didn’t forget about food, I just wanted to be sure that you were focused on my article without imagining tasty dishes at the same time! Now it’s time to talk about it.
First rule about Christmas in Sicily: on December 24th we are used to organize the cenone (a big dinner) with seafood on the table. On Christmas Eve families open the presents and the most religious go to the Mass at midnight.
The day after, so on December 25th, people have lunch all together with their relatives (yes, they eat again!) and mainly cook meat.
Dear reader, if you are Italian-American, probably you will be shocked to hear that the The Feast of the Seven Fishes does not exist in Italy. This celebration has been invented by the early immigrants to Canada and the United States but is partially related to Sicilian traditional dishes such as the eel, in Sicilian ancidda.
We cannot talk about Christmas in Sicily without mentioning desserts. They are the centerpiece of any holiday menu. Everybody knows cassata and cannoli and even if they are not specifically for Xmas, most of the times they are the first choice of many Sicilians!
The most famous sweets of this period are Buccellati. They are biscuits filled with fig jam, almonds and dried fruits, sometimes the recipe includes also grappa or Marsala wine. Dimension matters! According to the tradition, the bigger they are, the more luck will be donated to the people eating them. Therefore, let’s forget about the diet…at least for a couple of days!
When does Christmas in Sicily end? On January 6th. The legend says that an ugly witch-like woman will bring candies to kids who have been good during the year and coal to the bad ones. She’s called Befana. This is not only a Sicilian tradition, Epiphany in fact, is celebrate all around Italy in many different ways. It represents the old year that ‘dies’ to make way for the new one.