We are a week away from Christmas but you might have already eaten a few Panettone waiting for Santa Claus!
The festive season has officially started with the installation of Turin’s “Luci d’Artista”, lighting up the streets of the city centre since Halloween, and you should by now be familiarised with a few Italian holiday traditions.
Italians do not really have a national Christmas menu like the US Thanksgiving menu. Each region has a few dishes you are likely to find on their Christmas dinner table, such as Agnolotti in Piedmont, but nothing as mandatory and universal as the Turkey… except for the Panettone and Pandoro, two sweet brioche breads.
The Panettone is a Milanese born tradition dating back to the 3rd century, originally made with dried raisins and candied fruits, but has since evolved and you can now find all sorts of flavours including chocolate chips for the kiddos. Pandoro is its great opponent, also dating back to the 3rd century, but from Romeo & Juliet’s Verona, and wins over all the candied fruit haters as it is a plain vanilla brioche bread with a coating of icing sugar.
In Turin, one of my personal favourite is the famous “Nuvola” from the Pasticceria GHIGO in Via Po: a Panettone-shaped Pandoro with an extra thick layer of butter and icing sugar all over. But make sure to ask your friends and colleagues for their “best Panettone shop” in town and then indulge in trying all of them and choosing your own favourite.
Another specificity is the importance of Santo Stefano, December 26th. You might want to plan a family or friends’ gathering on that day to finish the leftovers, as you will find most stores and restaurants closed on that day, making it pretty gloomy if you are a tourist walking around the city in search of activities and shopping.
But do not fear, it is just a day to pace yourself as Christmas holidays in Italy tend to last until January 6th for “Epifania”, another bank holiday here, with most Italians taking no less than 2 weeks off from work. The Epiphany celebrates the arrival of the Three Magi before infant Jesus, but for the Italian children it is more importantly the day they find socks filled with candies in their houses, brought by the Befana, a kind witch.
If you have parents or friends coming over to celebrate the holidays, do not miss out on the Christmas tree in Piazza San Carlo, which takes all its splendour at night when it shines in the dark, and while strolling through the city centre, stop for a Bicerin to warm up.
In the mean time, I wish you a beautiful festive season!!