“It’s the most wonderful time of the year” as the song goes and this is certainly true for many European natives. Christmas in Europe is so heavily steeped in tradition and custom. Different regions celebrate in different ways but the importance of family, decadent rich foods and perfect wines to match remains paramount to each region. Our Local Hosts Pascha, Liz and our Regional Director, Jessica describe which foods and customs means most to them at this time of year.
Pascha, Provence Local Host:
“Christmas in France is full of traditions. On Christmas eve most french attend the messe de minuit (midnight mass) which is often followed by big nocturnal meal (de Réveillon). We then put our shoe under the Christmas tree or in front of the fire place and hope Père Noël will fill them with presents.
Traditional Provencal Christmas meal dishes are rich and flavorful: for starters we serve oysters or foie gras (duck liver paté) and for the main course wild boar, goose or turkey with chestnuts.
For dessert we enjoy les treize desserts (13 desserts, symbolising Jesus and his 12 apostels) or büche de noel, an icecream pie in the shape of a log, symbolizing an old tradition where the head of the family selects a log and puts it in the fireplace. Keeping the log burning as long as possible is said to bring happiness and prosperity to a family. Even the ashes from the log are important; often people would use it to fertilise their land.
Must haves for a perfect traditional french Christmas is a lot of food, a handful of presents, and a heaped spoonful of good company!”
Elizabeth, Local Host Tuscany:
“The Christmas holidays for me and my husband start on December 8th. In Rome, which is not far from where we live, the Pope blesses the statue of the Virgin Mary near the Spanish steps and the people surrounding him. Afterwards people have a procession with candles, chanting prayers as they walk through the streets. Others are busy in the small shops doing their Christmas shopping.
I love to bake, especially at Christmas time. I can still smell the aroma from mum’s kitchen when she baked when I was a child. I start baking early, making cantucci biscuits, mince meat pies, torrone, panettone, chocolates, truffles with limoncello so I can give to my friends for gifts. Culinary practice does change in Italy for Christmas and also depends on the different regions. On Christmas eve morning my husband goes to the fishmongers to pick up the fish that has been ordered while I am in the kitchen making broth with Cappone (young castrated capon) for Christmas day. If you don’t order the fish well in advance you will not find what you want as everyone eats fish on the 24th. I cook many different dishes of fish.
On Christmas morning I get up early ,light the fire and start making handmade tortellini, put the gifts under the tree, turn the fairy lights on and set the table in a special way. The Christmas meal is a long meal in Italy and usually finishes with panettone, pandoro or riccerelli (soft almond biscuits),panforte (chewy thin cake with honey, nuts, and orange peel) which are both specialties from Siena.
In Italy the children don’t just have Father Christmas; they also have the Befana, so they put the stockings up for the 6th of January. The Befana is a poor, old, ugly lady on a broom stick, like a witch, who brings sweets to the children if they are good. Otherwise they could find coal, garlic, onion or wood in their stocking..”
Jessica, Regional Director in Italy:
“It’s the festive season in Italy and everyone has been preparing for Christmas since the Feast of the Immaculate Conception in early December. This is when most Italian families put up their Christmas trees and decorate their homes for the holidays. It is also when my neighbor and good friend Lucia begins to make the 1500 to 2000 cappelletti that she will serve at Christmas dinner as the second dish in her homemade brode – a delicious meat broth and with many different sauces. It is a completely different taste and experience to savor homemade cappelletti floating ever so lightly in the most delightful broth created from a variety of meats.
Last year I headed over to help my friend Lucia and for hours we cut out the pasta dough, filling it with meat filling and pressing them into the “little hat-shaped” forms that are cappelletti. All you need is a dab of the filling for one cappelletti so you can imagine how long it takes to make these little scrumptious hats! It is important to work fast so that the pasta dough does not dry out otherwise you can’t close the cappelletti. If you can’t close them the meat comes out when you boil them in the water.
In two days Lucia made 2,000 and froze them for Christmas dinner and for the winter months ahead when a nice, hot broth and some homemade cappelletti is just what the soul needs to carry on through the winter.
At Hosted Villas we would love to have you come and stay in one of our warm and inviting villas during or before the holidays and try for yourself to make some homemade cappelletti with one of our local cooks!”
We think you will agree that Europe for Christmas is an adventure everyone should experience at least once! From all of us at Hosted Villas, we wish you and yours the very best for the holidays and for 2014.