Christmas in Italy – Teach the KIDS
Merry Christmas in Italian is Buon Natale!
You don’t have to be headed to Italy for Christmas to have a few magical Christmas daydreams about Buon Natale! But, if you are thinking about a trip to Italy it is fun to learn about holiday traditions. Incorporating some Italian traditions or portions of them into your own holiday celebrations will have your family learning and thinking about your trip before you even go!
Christmas in Italy – Decorations and Presepi (nativity scenes)
Even the pope decorates for the holidays. There is a nativity scene and tree outside the Vatican every year. Read about visiting Vatican City with the kids and making it educational and fun for the whole group!
See the world’s oldest permanently displayed nativity scene in Rome at Santa Maria Maggiore. It was carved in the 13th century and you can see it in the underground chapel of Christmas. Below the altar is a reliquery that contains part of the original manger. Read more about this fascinating and unique nativity here. Photo from SanTiana.ru
Christmas in Italy – Holiday food
Panetonne is an Italian type of sweet bread that comes from Milon. It is typically enjoyed around the Christmas holiday, but now, thanks to the internet and capitalism, you can enjoy Panetonne year round! Panetonne is hard to make because it has to rise three times – for almost 20 hours. I don’t know about you, but I don’t have time to deal with that. Thank you amazon and the bakeries in Italy that bake and ship!
You might be familiar with the sweet bread panetonne. Toasted it makes a wonderful breakfast treat! It takes several days to make a panettone cake so don’t feel badly about buying one. They are delicious and easy to get right out of the box!We usually go for the traditional one with raisins but I have to admit when I came across this one with orange and cranberry I wanted to try it. Really delicious and made in Torino, Italy! Try it with a little bit of ricotta cheese. Fantastic! What could be better than sweet bread? Sweet bread with CHOCOLATE! Firstly, everyone knows that chocolate makes everything better, except my son who doesn’t like chocolate at all, (I think he is the only person on the planet like that!) and this one does not disappoint! Toasted it is simply divine!! It makes a great gift and Christmas day breakfast! Or, have it with hot chocolate Christmas eve while you read “T’was the Night Before Christmas”While you snack on the delicious pannatone, share the story of its origin.
The Legend of Pannatone
Once upon a time, in the 15th century, there was a very powerful Duke of Milan named Ludovico il Moro. The Duke invited his friends over for a feast and told his cook to make the most delicious food. The cook really wanted to make a good impression so he spent a lot of time creating the perfect meal. But, while he was creating a wonderful meal…he forgot all about the dessert in the oven. It was burnt to a crisp! Oh, no! What would he serve for dessert! The Duke would be embarrassed and angry! Luckily for the cook, he had a new little kitchen boy named Tony. Tony had prepared himself a snack and suggested the cook use it for the desert. The cook had no choice but to try it. The sweet cake, from Tony’s suggestion, was a big hit with the Duke and his friends! When the Duke asked what the new creation was called, the cook replied, “L’e ‘l pan de Toni” meaning – the bread of Tony. The name later became Panettone.
I don’t know if it is true or not, but it makes for a great story to tell while eating delicious sweet bread.
The Christmas Eve meal in Italy usually means fish. In southern Italy, seafood is traditionally eaten on Christmas Eve and is related to the Catholic tradition of avoiding meat on the eve of certain holidays. Included in this ‘no meat’ holiday eve is Christmas eve.
The Feast of the Seven Fishes is an American name for the Christmas eve meal which can include 7-9 fish dishes. The most famous of these 7 dishes is salted cod fish which is called baccala in Italian.
Seafood of all sorts makes the Christmas menu in Italy.
Pasta is always on the menu!! Kids love it, too. We eat spaghetti for Christmas dinner in my family, although we’ve added the traditional smoked turkey as an additional menu item, too, and I use my great-grandmother’s spaghetti sauce.
My great-grandmother’s sauce is such a favorite that I make it as gifts for friends. Who doesn’t enjoy a homemade meal once in a while!
For fun, I usually use holiday shaped pasta, too which the kids love! I love spaghetti for a holiday meal because it is so easy and everyone loves it! Even kids love posta. Make the sauce ahead for ease. It even tastes better the next day.
COMING SOON – My Great Grandmother Grace’s Spaghetti Sauce Recipe
Christmas in Italy – Holiday sweets
Biscotti (also called cantucci or cantuccini)
Biscotti is a familiar Italian cookie. These are very, very hard! If you make them without nuts you can let your teething toddler enjoy! For a great biscotti taste – try Giada’s recipe here.
The word biscotti means ‘twice baked’ which is how the cookie gets to be so hard. The hard cookie, made for dunking, is eaten all over Italy, but the most famous biscotti of all comes from a famous bakery in Florence.
The Prato bakery in Florence has been making biscotti cookies since 1858 with the same recipe. The factory in Florence, still using the secret recipe, is run by 3 generations of the Pandolfini family whose ancestor was an aprentice of the original baker, Mattei.
If you are snacking on biscotti you are in good company! Christopher Columbus carried them on his travels because they keep so well!
Most people are familiar with the ice-cream spumoni, but there are also spumoni cookies! Spumoni cookies give you a little bit of the taste of the delicious spumoni without the summer feel of ice cream. Great recipe here with store-bought dough! So easy and pretty.
My mom’s side of the family is from Sicily and this fig cookie originates there: Cucidati. This cookie is time consuming and labor intensive but a real treat. It helps to make the dough ahead of time. Your family will beg for them every year! Try this cucidati recipe from Proud Italian Cook.
Make Christmas cookies together!
Spending time together is always a wonderful way to make memories. Since kids love cookies, baking and most especially tasting…why not use this time to add in some culture from the rest of the world?
But, if baking isn’t your thing, don’t feel badly. Just order some delicious Italian treats online and spend your time snuggled up with the kids reading great books from Italy! Memories are created in lots of ways. These fig cookies from Circo’s bakery are delicious and there is no mess to clean up in the kitchen. You’ll find a list of Italian Christmas stories below.
Christmas in Italy – Holiday gifts
No Santa Claus here – St. Nicholas and La Befana
Italian boys and girls who have been very good during the year get a visit from St. Nicholas and the Christmas witch named La Befana. La Befana is a kindly old woman or witch, depending upon the story, who goes door to door looking for the Christ child so she can give him a present. Along the way, she gives gifts to boys and girls on January 5th each year – Epiphany Eve. She carries a broom to sweep away the old year to make room for the new. In Venice, she arrives by boat!
La Befana: An Italian Night After Christmas by Sunday Frey – Blanchard and Roger Frey The story of La Befana, the Christmas witch.The World’s Largest Christmas Tree
Gubbio, Italy is home to the world’s largest Christmas tree. Who knew? (You heard it here first. 😉 Kids love to hear about world records!
The Guinness Book of World’s Records officially recognized the 2,132 foot tree in Gubbio, Italy as the world’s largest in 1991. That record has held since. It uses 25,000 feet of electrical wire and must take cooperation from the whole town of only 33,000. What a great result from team work and cooperation!
Christmas in Italy – Read stories
Reading to children is such a gift. They love snuggling in your lap, all warm and cozy. They love getting your attention. They love listening to stories. What’s not to love about all of those things for you, too? Make some wonderful Christmas memories with an Italian flavor this year.
Enjoy these special Christmas books about Italy!
Merry Christmas, Strega Nona by Tomie de Paola is wonderfully warm holiday book. Strega Nona is creating the Christmas Eve feast with the help of her assistant Big Anthony and the baker’s daughter, Bambolona. There is pasta, magic and fun! Written for kids aged 4-7 years old, but perfect for all ages. Lexile Measure: 660. Length: 32 pages.
The Legend of Old Befana by Tomie de Paola is another wonderful story from Tomie de Paola! This story is about the Italian witch, La Befana, who seeks the Christ child. During her constant search for baby Jesus, she gives gifts to children who have been good all year! Written for kids aged 6 -9 but wonderful for kids of all ages. Lexile Measure: 460L. Length: 32 pages.
The Christmas Witch by Ilse Plume This story of La Befana, the Christmas witch, includes the story of baby Jesus and really highlights the religious convictions of La Befana. Written for elementary school aged children. Length: 27 pages.
Buon Natale: Learning Songs & Traditions in Italian (Christmas) by Sophia Rossi Great way to learn a little about customs and get a feel for the lilt and melody of the language. Sing some Christmas songs in Italian with the audio CD. Written for kiddos aged 5 and up but a great way to enjoy a little Italian for any age!! Length 32 pages.
Jingle the Christmas Clown by Tomie de Paola Jingle, the clown, and his animal friends put on a circus performance for the town. Sweet and as wonderful as you would expect from Tomie de Paola. Excellent choice for a Christmas read with Italy in mind! Written for elementary school aged kiddos.
Christmas in Italy by World Book Staff So popular it is sometimes out of stock so order soon. The wonderful book explains so much about the holiday in Christmas! Written for ADULTS but includes crafts for children. Length: 80 pages.
Christmas Ornaments with an Italian feel!
Give the whole family an ornament from Italy to remember a fantastic trip you’ve had or to start thinking about an upcoming trip! Santa always brings us an ornament that has something to do with the travel we’ve had for the year and when the kids grow up and take the ornaments to their new home – they’ll have a wonderful tree! We also bring back ornaments from our travels for our very special ‘Travel Christmas Tree’. Start your own tradition today!
Travel Christmas Ornaments – Rome:
Travel Christmas Ornaments – Venice, Italy
Travel Christmas Ornaments – Milan
Travel Christmas Ornaments – Cinque Terre
Don’t forget to read about your destination before you go! That helps prepare the kids for what they will see which will help them be more engaged and remember more about the trip.
Buon Natale – Merry Christmas!
Natalie, The Educational Tourist