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Yearly Archives: 2012

Buon Natale!

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Christmas season in Italy is traditionally celebrated from 24 December to 6 January, or Christmas Eve through to Epiphany. This follows the pagan season of celebrations that started with Saturnalia, a winter solstice festival, and ended with the Roman New Year, the Calends. However there are lots of Christmas things to see during December prior to Christmas, many starting on December 8, the Feast Day of the Immaculate Conception.

Although Father Christmas, or Babbo Natale as he is known, now respects the date of 25 December, presents often were exchanged on 6 January better known as Epiphany. This is the 12th day of Christmas when the three Wise Men gave Baby Jesus their gifts. In Italy, presents are brought by the Befana or the witch, who arrives in the night to fill children's stockings. This kindly old witch, according to the legend, was stopped by the Three Wise Men  as they needed directions to get to Bethlehem and they invited her to join them. She refused and later a shepherd asked her to join him in paying respect to the Christ Child. Again she refused, and when night fell she saw a great light in the skies. La Befana thought perhaps she should have gone with the Three Wise Men, so she gathered some toys that had belonged to her own child, who had died, and ran to find the kings and the shepherd. But la Befana could not find them or the stable. Now, each year she looks for the Christ Child. Since she can not find him, she leaves gifts for the good children of Italy and pieces of coal for the naughty ones!

Christmas decorations and trees are now very popular in Italy with many decorations going up around December 8, the Feast Day of the Immaculate Conception. The nativity scene, crib or presepe is perhaps the most important "decoration" and almost every church will have one inside or out – living nativity scenes have become very popular with the locals dressing and acting out the scene.

Traditionally, a meatless dinner is eaten on Christmas eve with the family, followed by midnight mass. In parts of southern Italy an enormous 7 course fish dinner is served on Christmas Eve. Dinner on Christmas day is usually a long and elaborate meal with an array of antipasti, home made pasta dishes followed by a meat course (turkey in the north, lamb, pork and beef in other areas) and then finished with the traditional panettone. Needless to say, spumante,  liqueurs,  red and white wine will flow throughout the day! 

Here is the Italian Christmans calendar from start to end:

8 December: L'Immacolata Concezione – celebration of the Immaculate Conception

13 December: La Festa di Santa Lucia – St. Lucia's Saints Day 

24 December: La Vigilia di Natale – Christmas Eve 

25 December: Natale – Christmas 

26 December: La Festa di Santo Stefano – St. Stephen's Day marks the announcement of the birth of Jesus and the arrival of the Three Wise Men 

31 December: La Festa di San Silvestro – The feast day of San Silvestro or New Year's Eve 

1 January: Il Capodanno – New Year's Day 

6 January: La Festa dell'Epifania – The Epiphany

 

Notes on Italian Culture

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Going to a bar in Italy is like going to a cafe in England but with the addition of alcohol being on sale.  Wine, beers, spirits are readily available from the moment the shutters go up early morning to the moment they go down usually as the last customer decides to go home.

Bars are often the first point of reference for workmen and office workers who need a shot of caffeine in the form or a cappuccino or an espresso plus a crispy croissant full of jam or chocolate to prepare them for the day – it’s not unusual to have a measure of grappa or cognac in your espresso to really start the day with a jolt.

Mid morning the bars will become home to the Italian ‘elevenses’ – noisy chatter accompanied by espressos – macchiato, lungo, ristretto are some of the orders – an Italian will never be seen drinking a cappuccino at this time of day.

Moving swiftly on is the aperitivo – a pre-lunch drink in the form of a glass of wine, a Campari Soda or an unalcoholic Crodino or Aperol served with lots of peanuts, crisps and pizzette to get the appetite going.

After lunch the trade will be predominantly espresso coffees once again to clear the head and wake up the senses for rest of the day. The afternoon trade continues with tea, soft drinks, snacks and ice creams. 

The early evening brings back the working population for a much needed aperitivo after a hard day – a beer or glass of wine with your mates always rounds off the day nicely.

As the day turns into night, you may well return to enjoy the warm summer evenings with an exotic cocktail, small nightcap, herbal tea to help you sleep, an ice-cream or even a hot chocolate  – the choice is yours. Cin cin!

Sarah’s top 10 bars in Sardinia

  1. Harry’s Bar – Located in Porto Rafael. This is the best place to pop in to at any time of day for coffee, cakes and gossip!
  2. Petit Caffe – In Palau with great staff and free wifi. Get a table outside and watch the locals go about their business.
  3. Cristina’s Beach Bar – On the beach at Porto Pollo. Chill out on the sand with a Margarita. Lunchtime salads and snacks are great too.
  4. Il Baretto – Found on the road to Capriccioli (Costa Smeralda). This small bar serves coffee and cakes plus a full menu of pizzas and much more all through the day. Always busy.
  5. Barracuda – Sea front location at Baia Sardinia serving drinks, snacks and great array of ice-creams.  Get your table under an umbrella and people-watch in this glorious setting.
  6. Ciro’s – Old style bar in the heart of the ancient walled town of Alghero. A great place to be revived between shopping and sight seeing.
  7. Hotel Cala di Volpe –  If you seriously wish to blow the budget, go and have a champagne cocktail at this prestigious 5 star hotel. You will be in the company of the rich and famous!
  8. Caffe Nina – Situated in the church square in lovely San Pantaleo, while away a couple of hours with painters, artists and local shop keepers.
  9. Mobile bar at Capo Testa – This is a bar in the form of a lorry and if you are lucky you can get a plastic chair to sit on from where you can enjoy a ham and cheese panino with a cold beer and simply enjoy the most fantastic rocky setting and views across to Corsica.
  10. Olbia airport outside bar (between car hire building and main terminal) – Many a fond farewell has been said here. It’s a great spot to kill an hour after you have checked in. Comfy sofas and shady tables enable you to enjoy the sunshine right to the end of of your stay with a tasty snack and glass of Vermentino – just be careful that you don’t miss your flight!