Pictured below are some images from a 7-fish Christmas Eve Italian dinner, or the famous "festa dei sette pesci." This is moreso a tradition in central and southern Italy. The significance of seven is not really known for certain but there are a couple of theories. One theory is that seven is supposed to represent each day of the week. Another theory is that the number "7" relates to the number of Sacraments in the Roman Catholic Church. In any event, it is still a beautiful Christmas Eve tradition for Italians and many Italian-Americans.
A long-time Christmas tradition, especially in Sicily, is to serve the sweet and tasty torrone (literally “big tower”).
Legend has it that it was invented for a medieval wedding in the Italian city of Cremona. It was shaped into a tower, to serve as a wedding cake. It is now one of the main industries in Cremona, and it is exported to many parts of the world.
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A popular Christmas-time tradition in Italy is to make some vin brulè, or mulled wine, especially on a cold winter's night. It is actually popular all throughout northern Europe. In France this warming winter beverage is known as vin chaud, Germans call it Glühwein. The Swedish name for it is glögg.
Besides being able to warm you up nicely (brulè, in fact means burnt), it is also known to have therapeutic qualities. Many people swear that it can help you combat the common cold.
Here's what you will need to make vin brulè
Red wine - 1 (750-ml) bottle, should be dark red, and full-bodied Sugar or honey - 3 to 5 tablespoons Cinnamon sticks - 2 to 4 Cloves - 4 to 6 1 Orange (peel) 1 Lemon (peel)
You can vary the ingredients above to suit your tastes. You can eliminate the lemon, or orange, etc.
Peel the orange and the lemon.
Avoid using the whites of the peels, as it will give it a bitter taste. Pour the wine into a pot. It is also best to freshly grind the cinnamon and cloves. Pour in the sugar or honey. Prior to turning on the heat, stir all the ingredients together until the sugar is dissolved. Slowly bring to a simmer over a low flame. Do not boil. Cover and let steep on a very low flame for about 15 minutes. Strain, ladle into mugs and serve. Can be served warm or cold. Best served in ceramic mugs.
Swedish variation (Glögg): Drop a couple raisins and a slivered almond (or two) into each glass before pouring in the wine.
Santa Lucia was a rich, young Christian girl who was martyred in 304 A.D. She chose to die rather than be married to a pagan, who then had her tortured and murdered. She died on the longest night of the year, December 13th, and is the patron saint of those who are blind and suffer with eye problems. In fact, her name means "light".
There are several versions of St. Lucia's story and she is celebrated in other countries as well as Sicily.
One legend has it that during the great Sicilian famine of 1582, a large group went to the church to pray to 'Santa Lucia' for an end to the famine. While they prayed, a ship came into the Syracuse (Siracusa, Sicily) harbor filled with wheat and they were saved. They were so famished that they did not process the wheat into flour. Instead, they boiled the unprocessed wheat berries, and called it Cuccia or Cuccidata.
In Italy, a few towns, especially Siracusa Sicily, will have a big celebration.
Below is Rosanna Spallino performing at the Santa Lucia celebration at the Italian Club in Ybor City, December 2009.
What is Agriturismo? In Italian, it is actually a combination of two words - Agricoltura and Turismo - agriculture and tourism.
It basically means spending your vacation on a farm. It started becoming popular in the 1980s when many Italian farmers were looking for other ways to supplement their income. At an Italian agriturismo you will usually have the chance to experience the foods prepared from raw materials produced on the farm. Some will allow their guests participate in the activities surrounding the farm such as wine-making, cheese-making, olive production, milking cows, etc. It is usually a very rustic experience. Agriturismo can be another option instead of a typical Italian vacation that involves Italian hotels. Most of them are located in Tuscany, Umbria and Sicily.