It all starts with the celebration of the Immaculate conception, a Catholic tradition dedicated to the Virgin Mary. 8 December is the date when the Pope places a bouquet of flowers on the arm of the statue of the Virgin Mary in front of the Spanish Embassy by the Holy See next to the Spanish Steps (that's where the "Spanish" comes from). Do not expect the Pope to climb the column to reach the statue: he simply passes the flowers to the handsome Italian firefighters who will reach the statue by lift and place the flowers on behalf of the Pontifex Maximus (aka the Pope). From now on, Italians are allowed to celebrate, eat, drink and enjoy life even more than they usually do...
Weekends start getting hectic, shops have long lines outside and people start texting each other to share ideas about the perfect gift. Some make, some do not but still put a lot of effort in it.
As time gets closer to the 24 of December, families start defining their plans for every single day, filling in a list of guests and, most important, each day's menu!
On Christmas' eve, it is absolutely forbidden to eat meat, therefore, you better order some fish at your favorite market, supermarket or fisherman, if you want to serve a proper meal. Mussels, claims and squids are the #1 choice to prepare a delicious fish/seafood dinner. Shrimp, prawns and salmon are not bad either but can be more challenging to prepare (and more expensive to buy...).
If you have kids, at midnight you need someone to wear Santa's clothes and shop up with a bag to deliver the Christmas gifts you have been hiding in the closet or garage since the beginning of the month. Let the excitement go for an hour and then off to bed. Tomorrow, will be a long day (trumpets and drum rolls in the background).
It is Christmas, you wake with a phone full of messages and emails. Ignore all of them and start getting ready. Shower, shave (if necessary) and get dressed.
Casual dressing is "OK" but not OK. A nicer shirt or a cute dress will be
appreciated by your relatives, especially your grandma, who spent the last three weeks in the kitchen. Even if you are going to have lunch at someone else's, your grandma will bring enough food for an army. When getting ready, make sure you keep in mind that at some point during lunch you may have to release your belt a little bit or even un-button your pants: wear something that can help you hide this...
Lunch starts with a series of 10 to 12 appetizers. From charcuterie to cheese, bread, flatbread pizza and breadsticks, your palate will be engaged in a 20 minute challenge to distinguish all the amazing food you will get. After a 5 minute break, the first of the three main course will come to the table:
- lasagna (how can we avoid it?)
It is almost 2:00 PM and you start getting dizzy from the food. It is time for a break. Perhaps zio (uncle) will start taking the presents out with the hope that the women in the kitchen will have a moment of mercy and slow down the food supply.
Everyone at the table knows this is not going to work.
Arrosto (roast beef) and coniglio alla cacciatora (rabbit with black olives, tomatoes and rosemary) land on the table accompanied by 40 LBS of roast potatoes and baked vegetables (usually covered with bread crumbs). The final rush begins.
We are still here, still sitting, barely breathing. Lunch is "over". Yes, because for some reason dessert is not considered part of the Christmas lunch. We clean the table up, prepare the Tombola (Bingo) and nonno (grandpa) turns his attitude into WWII mode: he will never lose while playing Bingo. Never.
As the most outgoing person at the table keeps calling the numbers, the table gets covered with the following:
- torrone with chocolate
- torrone with almonds
- extra dessert that zia (aunt) brought in case anyone gets hungry
We keep going until 07:30 PM when grandpa finally falls asleep and everyone else is struggling with a digestion that will last until next year. You call your friends and go see them to play cards or simply have a "digestivo" (usually grappa, limoncello or something else). Christmas night is usually a moment to relax before the next rush: New Year's Eve.