The Delicious Foods of Christmas

by Paola Emilia Rubbi

Between intimism and consumerism, Christmas dinner continues to be celebrated
with joy and hope in the whole world.

"The long Christmas dinner" continues. When Thornton Wilder wrote it, in 1931, giving his play script a symbolic charge on the meaning of time and life (contained and represented in the ritualization and repetitiveness of traditions), he probably thought that these rituals and traditions centered on the Christmas Holidays could not ever change or at least not disappear completely.
In reality, even if "Christmas dinner" is renewed each year, the ways and the accessories have changed a lot over time if not disappeared. The conjunction of cultures and customs, consumerism, faltering values, we have given it today more of a business role however festive, than the time of intimism and contemplation it was.
There remains the fact, nevertheless, that the Christmas Holidays continue to be celebrated in joy and hope practically all over the world and, even in the diversity of symbols, rituals and gastronomic specialities that the various nations prepare for that particular time of the year, what is common to everyone is the pleasure to celebrate around special meals and the joy to exchange good wishes. There are also "signs" that characterize the solemnity of the end of the year: the bread, the fire (we think of the Yule logs found in many regions not only in Italy; to the "ndocce" of Agnone in the Molise (major flares composed of a wooden fir with dried gorse burning evolve into a strong light); the lights (represented by abundant decorative candles lit everywhere during the season); the bred, that can be associated to recipes that in many cultures peoples hand down for the meals of these days.
In Medieval times, in Europe, people prepared a round bread, to be reminded of the sun, with at its centre a cross that recalled Christianity and the four seasons of the year, fixed periods for folk life; in England, they made a special cake filled with spices to be reminded of the gifts of the Three Kings; in Provence, still today, the bakers at Christmas offer bread with saffron or anise and right here in Bologna, special bread, certosino (a liquor similar to chartreuse) and the more modest "panone" are prepared and consumed during the Holidays. In an hypothetic travel in the Holiday gastronomy (Christmas or New Year's dinner), we will remember: chickpea soup, macaroni with nuts, dried cod, eel and celery, for New Year's Eve in Marche; in Calabria, at Diamante, the "chinoli" (sweets prepared for

Christmas dinner on December 24th, are made with puff pastry soaked in white wine and filled with nuts, chestnuts, cacao and a few drops of coffee, everything is then fried and covered with honey; and for the meal the tradition there has to be 13 different courses; in Cosenza or in Sila seasoned spaghetti with grated bread and anchovies, first fried in oil (the so-called pasta and mullica) and the sweets: "turdilli", "scalille" and "pittulille" (deep fried sweets with peanuts, nutmet, cinnamon, Marsala, apples, etc.). In lower Ferrarese, on New Year's evening, the menu is composed of fish, most of all eels, and the table was prepared (during the night) with the most beautiful tablecloth on which was placed sweet-smelling bread, a glass of water and a glass of red wine for Jesus' first meal; while in the fireplace a large Yule log was placed which could stay lit all night so that baby Jesus could warm up immediately.
The custom of leaving water on the dressed-up table, as well as bread and a bit of butter to feed baby Jesus is common also in other areas, namely Reggiano. In Teramano, for Christmas lunch, the "cardone in brodo" (broth with meatballs) is prepared, as well as "maccheroni alla chitarra" (spaghetti-like pasta that is square in cross section with meatballs) and "caggionetti" (fried sweets, with chestnuts, honey and rum).
Elsewhere we find: in Greece, a cake called Vassilopitta; in Ireland, the apple sauce with S. Michael's goose, duck or turkey; in the West Indies, there is glazed Creole prosciutto; in the USA, stuffed turkey; in Germany, Stollen (Christmas bread) and small sweets with cinnamon, spiced bread and caramelized sugar.
On tables in Bologna “the Fat Town" for many generations has learned a triad of meals: tortellini, swallow-fish, certosino and a sweet originating from the country: the pinza, ring-shaped pasta rolled up around a filling of pine forests (apple quince and other fruits, reduced to two-thirds from boiling) decorated on top by tiny little balls made of coloured sugar called "bilen".
Little by little, culinary traditions, more or less close to us, arrived: the "zampone" (pig's trotter stuffed with seasoned mincemeat) with lentils ("which bring in the money”); the Anglo-Saxon sweet and spiced pudding in which is hidden a coin which will bring fortune to the person will find it in his portion; the "panettone" from Milan. Now that the table is laid out and that there are recipes for everyone's taste, the last thing we need to do is wish you a Very Merry Christmas and an Wonderful New Year!

Picture - Christmas decorations

Picture - Christmas cookies in the Santa Claus' face drawn on them