Christmas in Abruzzo. What does it mean to you? What memories does it evoke, what desires it inspires? What are the smells, the flavours, the places?
Here we offer our Christmas in Abruzzo.
The tickets are reserved. A plane departing from Toulouse will have a place assigned to my name. It will take me home in time for Christmas, after being away since the end of the summer.
I look forward to this moment, and I reflect over three or four things that, in my eyes, make Christmas in Abruzzo a unique experience.
Food above all: a tray of crispelle and ciabbottelli: soft fried dough to be enjoyed sweet, salty or stuffed with salted cod. Lovers of healthy food, please abstain. Be aware, however, that even if you avoid eating, your clothes will absorb the fragrance for days.
Crispelle and ciabbottelli can be enjoyed on Christmas Eve, or as a tempting centerpiece in one of the moments that I like most about the Christmas season: playing tombola and zompacavallo (or cucù) with friends and family. Maybe gambling games are a constant feature of Christmas holidays almost everywhere in Italy, but where else can you use roasted chickpeas to cover tombola numbers or for counting points?
Music comes from the street: gli zampognari, playing their pipes. The sound coming from instruments embraced in the cold December by the musicians, may not be exactly sweet to your ears. And you are probably right. Nevertheless, gli zampognari are linked to a traditional heritage of pastoralism and transhumance. An heritage that we risk to lose. In the past they fascinated travelers on their famous “European grand tour”, that would always pass through Abruzzo.
What to give for Christmas? I am one of those people giving books. I love finding them, weighing them, thinking of how they will fit the people who are dearest to me. And for Christmas I never fail to take a look at the catalogs of two Abruzzo’s publishers that I like the most: the historic Carabba from Lanciano (whose catalog offers books by Gennaro Finamore, a pearl, as well as the collection “Cultura dell’anima”, a treasure known to few people). The second one is the more recent NEO edizioni. In their editorial we read:
Predisposed to despotic secularism, morbid Catholicism and all the advocates of ecumenical nihilism, we unconditionally love those able to make of contemporary disenchantment an art with poetic meanings.
How do can we ou say no?
When the food becomes too abundant, leave the house to go for a walk and admire the hilly landscapes often covered by snow, even at low altitude. If Christmas awakens your child spirit, do not hesitate and enjoy the slopes on a sled. There is no age limit for this kind of adventures here in Abruzzo.
Francesca, Toulouse, autumn 2019
Maybe because I live abroad, if I think of Christmas in Abruzzo, I immediately and nostalgically remember the Squilla in Lanciano. We all met at my grandfather’s house, the oldest in the family. “La squilla”, which has its roots in the 1600s, is a bell on the civic tower. On December 23rd the bell rings for 1h (from 6 to 7 pm), to gather the families to reconcile before Christmas. That is what we simply do at the grandparents’ house each year. The tradition is also linked to the procession that goes from the Cathedral to the small church of Iconicella and then goes back, symbolizing the journey to Bethlehem. But perhaps it is better to let Cesare Fagiani explain the Squilla in the local dialect:
La Squije di Natale
La Squije di Natale dure n’ora
eppure quanta bbene ti sumente!
Tè na vucetta fine, e gna li sente
pure lu lancianese che sta fore!
Ti vùsciche di botte entr’a lu core
nu monne ch’à passate, entr’à la mente
ti squaije nu penzere malamente
nche nu ndu-lin-da-li che sa d’amore.
Ve da na campanelle chiù cumune
eppure ti rifà gne nu quatrale,
ti fa pregà di core,’n ginucchiune.
Ugne matine sone ma nen vale
la voce de lu ciele, pé ugnune,
chi sa pecché! … le té sole a Natale!
Furthermore, in our house it is not Christmas unless we eat the Brodo di Natale a real madeleine moment for me. My mother makes it simple and delicious: meat broth, cardone, tiny meatballs and a special pizza rustica.
Although simple, the broth never arrives alone. The richness of christmas table in Abruzzo is hard to escape. Therefore, before playing tombola or cards, I suggest to go for a nice walk in the nature, take some fresh air. Without going far, on the local small roads, otherwise near the sea. I love going to the Pinetina of Rocca San Giovanni, or to Lecceta di Torino di Sangro (where you can pay your tribute to all those resting at the nearby military cemetery).
Finally, if you need to give a special gift this Christmas, I suggest you give a presentosa. In the local dialects presentosa can mean presente, a gift to display). Whether in the traditional and beautiful jewel format, or translated to objects of terracotta, it is always a very appreciated gift.
All you need to do is to let yourself to be intoxicated by the scents of the Christmas in Abruzzo.
Venusia, Strasbourg, autumn 2019
Christmas for me is the home of my parents in Lanciano. It is filled with people, each room houses suitcases and beds ready for postprandial naps. Do not imagine armies of relatives, just the right number to create a unique and special atmosphere.
Nevertheless the holidays for me begin already with the journey home, when the mountains slowly make their entrance at on the horizon. They represent the first step entering a dimension of suspension that lasts for at least three days: Christmas Eve, Christmas day and Santo Stefano.
Every year we also try to make original gifts, as the traditional wool blanket made in Taranta Peligna. It is a unique product risking to be part of a disappearing tradition. Gaetano Merlino is trying to continue to keep alive this tradition. He is combining the production of the blanket with the promotion of the local area of Taranta Peligna.
But it is not holidays if we don’t dwell on the Christmas menu. As as usual the hen for the broth is central and is ordered well in advance… as early as November 1st. Then there is the usual debate on how many courses we should prepare, and if we should make a second primo, or not. A heated yet useless discussion, as we always end up sitting down eating ravioli, lasagne or rintrocilo, after the unmissable broth.
Christmas holidays are also about the chatter in the morning around the table, with a view of the Majella, when each get assigned a task for the day.
It is also the memories of our grandmother’s dolce nero. Noone in our house has the recipe now, so it lives only in the memory of our taste buds.
Chiara, Roma, autumn 2019
Foto ©come da didascalia, foto di copertina ©Pixabay (modificata)