ITALY | Concerts, Crèches, Consumerism and Cuisine from Monica Di Molfetta, Clementson Travel
A marvellous transformation occurs in Venice in the month of December, the tourist population halves and suddenly you are greeted by empty quays and squares. At this time of year it’s mainly Venice for the Venetians, and you’ll quickly appreciate the luxury of discovering art and architecture undisturbed, not to mention sensing the spirit and beauty of La Serenissima’s elegant traditions.
The season begins on December 8, with the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. Large posters all over the city advertise Christmas concerts which are held most evenings in the city's vast basilicas, small museums and churches.
Christmas markets, known as Mercatini di Natale, pop up in the different campos around the Rialto. The largest market in Campo Santo Stefano, is filled with stalls selling quality Venetian handicrafts, antiques and foods from all over Italy.
Fantasy lights, garlands and trees are present only in the busiest parts of the city but true Venetians seek out presepi, Christmas crèches, typically displayed in churches and at the seasonal markets. Nativity scenes are essential to a Venetian Christmas experience, if you’re lucky, you may catch sight of a huge straw nativity scene on a gondola cruising down the canal on its way to the Rialto.
At home on Christmas Eve tables are abound with traditional seafood recipes, risotto de pevarasse (Venetian clam risotto), branzino al forno (oven-cooked seabass), anguilla (eel), mixed fried fish garlanded with grilled or stewed vegetables, cappelletti and ravioli in brodo di cappone (capon broth). Seasonal sweets like slices of candied orange coated in bitter chocolate are a local favourite, whilst panettone or pandoro with a dollop of Mascarpone rounds out a traditional meal.
Christmas Day is celebrated at Saint Mark's Basilica, a huge crowd fills the Byzantine landmark for midnight mass, its great doors thrown open, a combination of bracing air, haunting melodies, thousands of candles reflecting off gold-tiled mosaics, swirling incense, crimson accents and ringing bells are backlit by the moonlit square.
The following morning, December 26, for the feast of Santo Stefano, families venture out to view the crèches (nativity scenes) in the churches and visit the wonderful Christmas markets.