Articolo disponibile anche in: Italian

The atmosphere in the streets is quiet and intimate. Light fog often envelops the nights. Snow dusts the highest hills. When the evening is serene, the star dusted sky illuminates the night, and the houses are brilliant with colored lights.

Chimneys eaten by moss emit hypnotic dances of smoke which are lost by the light of the moon. Everything begins on December 8, the holiday of the Immaculate Conception dedicated to Christmas decorations: the tree must be “Big, Dad!”, the decorations created by uncertain hands, the Nativity scene: early in the morning we get in the car, we buy the Christmas tree and take a long walk in the forest to gather some moss.

The days before Christmas are intense and shared as much as Christmas itself, especially in the eyes of children which shine in marvel, and for the family which is once again reunited.

Dad plays with the children in the morning in his pajamas, letters to Santa Claus are written, gifts are wrapped, school recitals are performed with grandparents and moms holding onto their handkerchiefs, and preparations are made for the rich Christmas table.

The women of the family get together to make tortellini (one makes the pasta, one makes the filling, one shapes them, everybody chats): it is a rite that has crossed generations.

It unites at least three families for hours and hours in a unique occasion to prepare this delicious dish. The big event is Christmas Eve, the evening of December 24; time to go visit your aunts and uncles.

The evening is long and happy; baccalà, fried shrimp and calamari for antipasto. Tradition says not to eat meat. Then, a little before midnight, a little man dressed in red comes down the stairs. He has a long gray beard a red hood and deep voice.

tortellini-in-brodoThe children, even though they have waited for this moment, are petrified and still. The littlest ones stutter, “I have been good”, trying not to cry. My oldest daughter, instead, says “Auntie, that’s enough. go change. it didn’t work. They were scared”. But my aunt is having more fun than everybody else.

The children, in the meanwhile have regained their energy and color in their faces after seeing the gifts left by Santa Claus. All that is left is to open the gifts! The next day, Christmas lunch, is a solemn moment.

Everyone is dressed up. The table is decorated in red with grandma’s good dishes, the ones that we use only once a year. On our plates, the best family tradition mixes with typical Christmas recipes. Dominating are tortellini in broth followed by capon, stuffed with pistachios, quail eggs and prunes, a masterpiece of homemade cuisine.

The best bottles from our wine cellar are opened. At the end of the long meal, pandoro and panettone, two icons of the Italian Christmas, reign, as well as panforte, torrone, dried fruits and Holy Wine.

The afternoon is spent on the couch, chomping on walnuts and hazelnuts, pomegranates, figs, and dates. We play bingo (highlighted by grandma’s good luck, Grandpa’s deafness… he never understands which numbers have been called, and some off-color jokes.) Before we know it, it is time to eat again; dinner is ready.

Bingo cards covered with beans leave room for the smoking pot filled with boiled meat accompanied by “salsa verde” and Russian salad.

dsc_4807The new year is celebrated with the grand dinner of “San Silvestro”, an informal gathering among friends, fun and noisy, where traditional food, “zampone’ and “cotechino” are joined by a plate of lentils. It is said that eating lentils on New Year’s Eve brings good luck.

Grapes are another good luck charm which we eat while waiting for the midnight toast The Epiphany arrives on January 6. The proverb says, “Epifania, tutte le feste porta via” (the Epiphany is the end of the holiday period”).

The “befana”, a good witch, is epitomized by a wrinkled old lady with a crooked nose who flies around on a straw broom. She brings woolen stockings filled with sweets and gifts to the children who have been good and carbon to those who have been bad.

“La befana” is a melancholy figure. She is the symbol of the last moments that the family spends together before returning to work, to school and to daily chores. The Christmas vacation has ended.  Pretty soon the first flowers will peek through the grass.

Francesco Sorelli – Il Bisarno Oltre la SievePhoto by Sandra Pilacchi