Tuscan Christmas Traditions – Florence, food and family

Panettone, a traditional Italian Christmas sweet. Photo by Clément Dominik.

As if Tuscany isn’t spectacular enough at any time of the year, add the magic of Christmas into the mix and you have a truly wonderful, unforgettable festive season.


In Florence, and in the surrounding hill towns, the streets are decorated with Christmas lights. The window displays are bursting with reds and greens, sparkling and dazzling with tinsel and fairy lights to be just impossible to ignore.


As with most things in Italy (except the fashion!), Christmas here is still old-style and traditional. Even the food has been passed down through the generations, gradually evolving into a traditional menu that could blow your socks  – and your belt buckle ? off, such is the extensive range of delicious treats to consume!

There is an old saying in Italy, ‘Natale con i tuoi, pascqua con chi vuoi’ ? Christmas with your own [family], and Easter with whoever you want. It is said to have derived from the fact that Christmas is considered such a special and sacred event for families, and it is traditional to lunch with your family. As such, young couples would not even think of inviting their partners to the Christmas lunch table. Easter, however is another story (and another post).


And what a table it is. Likely to be covered with a special tablecloth hand-made by nonna generations ago, the table is typically lined with appetizers and nibbles, to be consumed over a glass of celebratory prosecco. (Don’t forget, in Italy when you raise a toast and ching your glasses, you must always ? ALWAYS ? look the other person directly in the eyes, rather than fixedly staring at your drink to ensure not to spill it!)


This starter could be a selection of hams and salamis, cheeses and plump olives produced within the local area (or even in the family garden!). Sometimes there are flans as well, filled with the season’s freshest vegetables and perhaps some freshly-shaved truffles. There will almost always be ‘Crostini Toscani’ (chicken liver-pâté on Tuscan bread ? a delicacy in Tuscany and loved by even those who swear they can’t do liver).


For the starter dish, the ‘primo’, expect hand-made tortellini served in broth (‘brodo’), followed by a second first course of pasta, often with a meat sauce like boar or pigeon, or a lasagna.


Don’t worry – it takes a long time to work through an Italian long-lunch so hopefully you will have room for when the main arrives. You’ll need it!


You can expect to be served with a variety of roast meats, and another meat dish such as ‘bollito’ (mixed boiled meats in delicious sauce), and a side dish or two of the freshest of fresh in-season vegetables.


Luckily there is always room for dessert because next will be served a variety of pastries, cakes, and other traditional Tuscan sweets, and then a bitter espresso shot of coffee and Panettone or Pandoro (typical Tuscan Christmas cakes. ‘Pandoro’ translates to ‘golden bread’ for its colour).


A digestive shot of grappa or other liqueur is then served to help your tummy.


It is considered the height of rudeness to not eat all on your plate, so if you are lucky enough to be faced with such a spectacular meal, ensure you ask for smaller portions before the food is served if you doubt you’ll make it to the finish line otherwise!


After dinner, it used to be traditional to go to the cinema in the afternoon of the 25th. Many people also opt for a stroll through the streets, not only to help work off lunch, but also to see the spectacular ‘Presepe’ (nativity scenes), and of course to wish a ‘Buon Natale’(‘Merry Christmas’) to friends and neighbours.


Sometimes there will be Christmas markets or events happening that draw people out from  their food slumber  in their Christmas best.


There are also many restaurants that offer set-menu lunches for those who are travelling, or not fond of spending the many days required to prepare such a feast.


If you’d like to learn to make some delicious, typical Tuscan dishes right here in Tuscany, we have Tuscan cooking classes.

Visiting Italy around Christmas? We have a range of Private Tours in Florence, Exclusive Tours in Rome, and Privately guided tours in Venice to choose from. Of course, that’s not all, we have many other Private Guided Tours in Italy to choose from!

?Please feel free to email us on staff@artviva.com for any questions, or see our Artviva website for information and pretty pictures.

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