HOLIDAY SEASONS ALLA ITALIANA: TRADITIONAL ACTIVITIES IN NORTHERN ITALY 1/4
Italy, the country of sagre and ferie does not disappoint during the holidays. From the cuisine, to the traditions or funny legends, Italy blossoms into the festivities. From the north to the south, Italy’s Best presents a 4-article series that will bring you the best of the best places to be, things to do, what to eat and even, what to hear in Italy this holiday season. Getting started with articles 1 and 2, we present the most unique holiday traditions throughout Italy’s various regions. Let’s see what the north of Italy has to offer.
Piedmont – The land that gave us some of Italy’s best wines can also provide some pretty unusual holiday traditions. Every year from October to January, Turin hosts the Luci d’artista (Artists’ Lights). The city is illuminated by artistic light decorations. In comparison to Turin’s more modern take on the holidays, Premosello Chiovenda- Colloro, celebrates a very historic tradition. In the three days preceding the Epiphany, the millennial rite of Carcavegia is performed; a tradition of ancient origins and shrouded meanings. Announced by the sound of the bells, the boys of the village carry around the puppets of vecc and vegia, puppets of wood and straw with their faces turned backwards. On the eve of Epiphany, the two puppets are condemned to the stake and burned together with the branches collected beforehand by the village’s young people. The idea is that on a cold January evening the flames of the bonfires heat and brighten the darkness of the night and deflect adversity.
Veneto – This floating gem is the perfect place to enjoy a steaming cup of vin brulè in the foggy streets of Venice. If you’re with your family or have a love for ice skating, check out the quaint ice rink set up in Campo San Polo from December 6 to around the end of January, accompanied by a Christmas market stalls with sweets, toys, and gifts.
Liguria – Who wouldn’t want to see the world’s largest presepe (nativity scene)? In the lovely coastal town Manarola along the Cinque Terre rests a historic nativity scene designed and built by Mario Andreoli, a retired railway worker. The presepe consists of an environmentally friendly scene of 300 full-scale illuminated figures covering a hillside. The presepe opens with a lighting ceremony on December 8 at 5:30 p.m. and remains open through the end of January.
Emilia-Romagna – The city of towers and tortelloni presents the world’s oldest annual fair, Fiera di Santa Lucia (The Fair of Saint Lucy). Bologna has been hosting the historic fair since before 1796. The fair is so typically festive with its scents of ginger and cotton candy, decorations for Christmas trees and colorful nativity statues. The Santa Lucia Fair opens its doors every year on November 17th and animates the arcade area until December 26th at the Church of Santa Maria dei Servi in Bologna.
Tuscany – For an unusual tradition, experience panforte throwing in the Tuscan town of Pienza. Slicing up an Italian fruitcake is easy compared to throwing one! The Torneo Gioco del Panforte is held after Christmas from December 26 to 30 in Pienza’s town hall and requires competitors to throw an entire panforte over a long table, attempting to slide it to the end without letting it fall off. If tournaments aren’t up your alley, admire the Arrival of the Magi (wise men) in Florence. Celebrate the Epiphany with over 500 Florentines in period costumes parading from Palazzo Pitti to Piazza Duomo.
Marche – Imagine being out for a stroll to enjoy the crisp air, roasted chestnuts and spiced wine and suddenly are surrounded by hundreds of witches. In the Le Marche town of Urbania, this might just happen. Believed to be originally from Urbania, La Befana is an the old witch who delivers children gifts and candy and sweeps your floor on Epiphany’s eve. Think of a new sort of Santa Claus. Everyone dresses up and celebrates from January 2-6 and if staying in the area over those dates, it is customary to set out a glass of wine and snacks to thank her for cleaning the house.
Umbria – Named by the Guinness Book of World Records as the “world’s largest Christmas tree,” Gubbio hosts an albero di Natale beyond belief. On Monte Ingino, a tree constructed of four thousand meters of lights can be seen all the way from Perugia, 18 miles away. It is first lit on the December 8th, Feast of the Immaculate Conception, and stays lit from Christmas to the New Year’s. A humble but tasty alternative to Gubbio can be found in Cannara, a lovely little town 20 minutes from Assisi. Famous for its onions, they celebrate the holiday season with a four-day mini-onion festival in the beginning of December. Taverns are set up to enjoy traditional onion-based specialties with locals and there’s a small Christmas market.