December 3, 2021

Iconic Italian Christmas Traditions

The holiday season is finally upon us and we’re celebrating in style after missing out on so much last year. There are many widely-accepted traditions across the nation, such as leaving cookies out for Santa, decorating the Christmas tree with loved ones, lighting the menorah with your family, and exchanging gifts with friends.

However, there are several traditions that Italy is known for that may not be as popular in the United States. Let’s check them out!

The Ceppo

Similar to our Christmas trees, Italians have the “Ceppo.” To some, the ceppo is simply the Yule log, burned during the holiday season. For others, the ceppo refers to a tiered shelf that resembles a tree. Made of wood, this pyramid-shaped structure would house a family’s “Presepio,” or Nativity scene, on the lowest shelf, with candy and small gifts adorning the upper shelves. People would decorate these “trees” in their own way, but many would place a small star or doll on the top and add candles to the shelves, giving the structure the popular nickname of the “Tree of Light.”

Sweet Treats

Much like many of us eat one too many cookies throughout the season, Italians also have quite a sweet tooth. Many families bake loaves of special sweet bread, including Panettone and Panforte. Panettone is a soft bread that is filled with candied fruit and spices often enjoyed around Christmas time.

While similar to panettone, panforte differs in that it is a heavier, more dense sweet bread rather than a light and airy loaf. This holiday fruitcake is made with nuts, dried fruit, and spices. One of the most popular types of panforte is known as Panpepato, a specialty of Siena, and is made with honey, walnuts, almonds, sultanas, chocolate, and nutmeg. We bet your grandma’s fruitcake isn’t as delicious as this Italian classic.

No Meat on Christmas Eve

Italy is a religious country, and it is no surprise that the Roman Catholic tradition of abstaining from meat on the eve of a feast day is carried out on Christmas Eve. On Christmas Eve, or la Vigilia, families prepare meals made up of various fish and often include several courses. The reasoning behind this is that avoiding fatty meats and instead consuming lean seafood was thought to purify the body before the celebrations.

Late Night Mass

While not everyone is religious, many remember being dressed in their Sunday best and attending church on Christmas Day with their family members. However, in Italy, it is customary to attend midnight mass instead. For those in Rome, the Pope officiates mass at the Vatican’s basilica. The mass is then televised for people to watch in St. Peter’s Square.

Get into the Holiday Spirit at Grico’s

Though Italian and American traditions may differ slightly, they still bring a feeling of joy during the holiday season. If you’re looking to experience the holiday spirit, make a reservation at Grico’s today! Our igloo dining is the perfect way to spend the holidays with your loved ones!