Christmas in Sicily is worth double! In this article we tell you why. When it’s Christmas, it doesn’t matter how warm it still is: it’s all a whirlwind of lights, processions, traditions and incredible dishes to enjoy. The atmosphere is exactly as if everything was snowed in, but the nece is not always there!
On our island, in fact, Christmas is an incredible festivity, full of ancient traditions that none of us could ever give up. I am talking above all about the unfailing dishes on our long tables, but do you know what they are?
The “musts” at the table
Crispelle. Maybe it is because they are so tasty and fragrant; maybe it is because they are fried, or maybe it is because they are so small that you can eat them in one bite and we all dream about them. You are walking down the street and stop to pick up a tray of them. You are invited to someone’s house for lunch? You bring them for dessert.
Wait, the best is yet to come, because surely you know that fried codfish is part of these traditions, as are baked pasta, false lean and dried fruit. However, the Scacciata, don’t forget, is the most important thing of all! There isn’t a grandmother who doesn’t let you find it when you go to visit her; even less an aunt who doesn’t say, ‘there’s a piece of scacciata “a zia, chi fài, u voi?”, when you pass by to say hello. Don’t think it’s any different if you go to play a game of Baccarat at a friend’s house: it will always be a piece of scacciata that makes its way onto the green table first. Whether it is tuma and anchovies, broccoli or with potatoes, there will be one flavour in the world that will win out over all the others for you.
Desserts are no different: it is always the right time for a cannoli, you should know that by now. If you feel like tasting something different, have some buccellato, almond paste or cassatella, but you MUST always eat dessert.
You already have no room in your belly just reading I guess, so I’m taking you for a walk through the traditions of religious festivals.
The Nativity Scenes
The island is particularly religious, so during the Christmas period there are many novenas. The custom of making the “zucco” (the typical bonfire used to warm Jesus) is also a deep-rooted tradition. Municipalities generally organise them in the main squares and people gather around to warm themselves.
Living Nativity Scenes completely transform the face of Sicilian villages. In some of them, everything stops completely for the representations: you should see those in Caltagirone (here is the complete programme), Forza D’Agrò and Palazzolo Acreide. Those in wood, gold, silver, ivory or coral remain to be visited. This of the nativity scenes in fact represents an ancient tradition dating back to the 16th century, which has proclaimed it as the most popular iconographic representation.
Christmas, you may have guessed, is “more”n everything in Sicily: did you know that the rarest fir tree in the world grows only on the Madonie Mountains? Until 1957, the Abies Nebrodensis was thought to be extinct and a subspecies of the silver fir. Nothing could be more wrong, because this fir is taxonomically different. Still present in nature (albeit in very few specimens) in the Vallone della Madonna degli Angeli, it can be found at about 1500 metres above sea level. The botanists who surveyed Polizzi Generosa at the time discovered them and worked to have them included among the critical endangered species and (finally) protected by a series of laws.
You can enjoy all the Christmas markets you want, who said you have to go to cold countries to stroll among the festively decorated wooden stalls?
In Palermo, between 29 October and 8 January, you can visit the Giotto Park Village, free entrance every day from 4pm to 11pm and on Saturdays from 4pm to midnight. The ‘Natale in Fiera’ event hosts not only the classic markets but also a beautiful Luna Park.
In Catania, on the other hand, as every year, a wonderful market is set up in Piazza Università, on which a huge Christmas tree full of coloured lights stands proudly. There are just under a hundred little wooden houses housing the best Sicilian craftsmen and their beautiful products.
Among the many products on display, you can find recycled furniture, food and wine products and handmade jewellery.
In Caltagirone, the market is organised in Piazza della Cattedrale and is called “Natale in vetrina” (Christmas in a shop window), in which the local ceramists obviously participate.
In Messina, everything takes place in Piazza Cairoli: in addition to the classic and beautiful markets with displays by local artisans, children can meet and deliver their letters to Father Christmas!
In Erice, the beautiful medieval town of Trapani, the Christmas markets are in Piazza della Loggia from 8 December 2022 to 8 January 2023. Bagpipers, wooden huts and Father Christmas are just some of the special surprises reserved for the public at the “EricèNatale” event, which also boasts the world’s smallest nativity scene.