Today December 8th the Catholic world celebrates the Virgin Mary Immaculate Conception marking the official opening of the Christmas holidays. The Catholic dogma believes the name Immaculate (pure, the purest of the angels, innocent) was given to Mary when the angels announced to her that she to had been chosen to become the mother of Jesus through the Holy Spirit without any human contact. Up to that moment, Mary lived a life without any original sin, nor mortal or venial sins, thus she had that special privilege to become the mother of Jesus.
The celebration of Mary Immaculate Conception was introduced in the Roman calendar in 1476 and since then Christmas holidays start with this celebration in anticipation of the birth of Jesus. On this day Catholics are expected to fasten for the entire day until the evening. Around 7:00 pm they can sit down and have a really scrumptious meal with different kinds of meats, panzerotti, some stuffed pasta like tortellini or ravioli, fried or cooked vegetables, but mostly rich filling food, good wines and typical Christmas sweets.
On this day, most of all the cities in Italy and Catholic Europe will have an area of the city designated to Christmas street markets. The market will be open for business all day and all night until midnight or 1:00 am, every day until Christmas Eve and in some cities the market will reopen after the first of January for a few days until the Epiphany. Giving Christmas gift to kids is a fairly new custom. Up until twenty years ago, more or less, kids received their gifts the night of Epiphany, January sixth. For Christmas they would get some new clothes and special home-made sweets. The adults celebrated with special food, special wines consumed with family and friends. Christmas was for kids only.
I have included a video of Bolzano’s Christmas market. It’s a bit lengthy, but it will give the idea of what we do in Europe.
At the street markets, especially at night with all the flickering lights, the atmosphere is very Christmassy and sweet. It is December after all, the air is fizzy and cold, perfect for hot cocoa or warm brandy. Women are bundled up in fur coats and boots, kids are wrapped in woolly scarves, hats and heavy clothes looking like petit Michelin men. Some vendors’ kiosks are filled with curious arts and craft, some have specialties food and some sell Christmas delicacy or sweets. There are music and street musicians playing their favorite instrument, but what will catch your eyes is the willingness of people to leave computers and TV’s at home and come out in the streets to enjoy the evening with their kids, kids’ friends, families, to meet people they have never seen before and to shop at small artisans, where they can find unique gifts. I also noticed the gentleness of people in this time of the year. It is kind of puzzling to me why some people are only nice at Christmas time.
Here in the States, I have seen and experienced many different kinds of Christmas celebrations, but I have never seen a nighttime Christmas market. The closest I got to this idea last week was the market organized in the courtyard of the International German School in my area. I was the only author in a kiosk with books for sale, all others kiosks displayed hand-made art and craft items, jewelry, pottery, ceramics and German food. It was an enjoyable evening, despite of the cold wing and my frozen feet. Kids gathered on stage to sing so graciously Christmas carols in German language, the adults instead played modern rock and roll music.
Both of my books sold well that evening, my easy and healthy recipes from Puglia, my home land of Italy, will delight people’s tables this holiday season and will make a nice addition to their Christmas specialties. Both books are available here in this site on the Books page and on Amazon.
Just in case you are in a bind and need my help in decorating your holiday table, just leave your name in the box, I will answer in 24 hours time and I will be delighted to help you. Ciao,
Copyright © 2011 Valentina Cirasola, All Rights Reserved
Valentina Cirasola is an Italian Interior Designer with a passion for kitchens and cooking. She especially loves to design all those rooms with a “make me feel good” tag attached, such as kitchens and wine grottos, outdoor kitchens and outdoor rooms, great rooms and entertainment rooms. She is a public speaker and a mentor. She is also the author of two Italian regional cuisine books and she the author of the forthcoming book ©RED-A Voyage Into Colors on the subject of Colors, due to be published very soon.