Christmas Around Italy travels to one of my favorite Italian cities, Napoli! Huge welcome to Bonnie of Napoli Unplugged. Bonnie, an American expat, has been living in and loving Naples for many years. Her love for the city is what inspired her site, Napoli Unplugged. It's the place to go if you want to know "what's on" in Naples. Also, via the site, Bonnie blogs about various escapades and strolls she takes in and around Naples. She also maintains a photo blog where she shares a daily photo from Naples. Even though she does all this, I'm so happy she found time to stop here and share a few Neapolitan Christmas traditions with us. Enjoy!
Christmas. In the immortal words of Andy Williams "It's the most wonderful time of the year." Filled with the joy of the season I am transported to my youth, as visions of snow-covered houses, blazing fires and horse-drawn sleighs dance in my head. Classic Currier and Ives Christmas scenes that are interminably rooted in my DNA.
Of course Christmas in the Mediterranean, Christmas in Napoli is slightly different. It's unlikely we'd ever see a white Christmas (although there was snow on Vesuvius today) and Jack Frost is not likely to be nipping at my nose. And what of the commercial Christmas bling my inner child so desperately craves? Well that has only recently started to creep onto the scene.
But Christmas in Naples is every bit as magical as the Currier and Ives pictures I have in my mind. And perhaps more so, because time-honored traditions remain the star, while everything else is just trimming on the tree. The tree, which by the way only plays a supporting role to the world-renowned Presepe Napoletano, the Neapolitan Christmas Nativity.
A centuries old tradition, by early December Neapolitan Presepe collections are on display all over the city. There are so many in fact, that I've made an annual treasure hunt out of trying to find them all. They are in every Neapolitan home, most of the city's churches, on display in all variety of public buildings, and there are permanent displays like those at San Martino and Santa Chiara.
And of course, along Via San Gregorio Armeno, Naples premier Christmas Market, where you'll find everything to create your own Nativity Scene. Open year round, during the holiday season tourists flock in from all over the world just for the chance to wander this magical Christmas alley.
Not far from San Gregorio Armeno, is Porta Nolana, Naples second most important Christmas Market. But don't head there expecting to find mulled wine, Christmas ornaments or nut crackers. This isn't a Christmas market in the traditional sense. Home to the freshest seafood in town, it is THE place to stock up on everything you need to make the traditional Cena della Vigilia di Natale, the Neapolitan Christmas Eve dinner.
The live clams, le vongole veraci for the Vermicelli or Spaghetti alle Vongole that is served as the primo piatto.
The salt cod, il baccalà, served fried, in vapore or baked as the secondo.
And the obligatory Christmas Eel, il capitone. Definitely an acquired taste, it is typically fried and seems to find its way onto the Christmas Eve table whether it is eaten or not.
You can also find fresh cauliflower, le papaccelle, hot peppers conserved in vinegar and olives for the Insalata di Rinforzo.
But if it's Neapolitan Christmas sweets you are in search of, you will either have to make them yourself or do like most Neapolitans do these days, pick them up at a Pasticceria. What to buy? Honey soaked Struffoli, chocolate dipped Mustaccioli, nutty and crispy Roccocò, and the S-shaped Susamielli.
There are other Neapolitan Christmas traditions to be sure. Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve and Minestra Maritata for the Christmas Day lunch. Gli Zampognari, bag pipers who magically arrive in December to entertain the residents of the city for a bit of food or change. Tombola, a game played during the holidays that is similar to bingo, except it uses the numbers from 1 through 90, and each has a meaning based on La Smorfia Napoletana.
And of course the one universal tradition of the season, sharing the holiday with friends and family.
From our home in Napoli to yours wherever you may be, Merry Christmas to all and to all a Very Happy New Year!
*All photos in this post are courtesy of Napoli Unplugged