We've moved from Baltimore, Maryland USA to Venice, Italy in pursuit of living our dream!

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Countdown to Christmas - Italian style - December 20

photo courtesy www.newford.org.uk

Day 20 (venti)!

Believe it or not, I selected each of the Advent Calendars I was going to feature on these blogs way back on December 1. I chose the calendars, and assigned them each to a day of the month.  I got a huge chuckle today when I opened the file for today's blog and took a look at this calendar, because what is behind door number 20 is the annual Babbo Natale Regata in Venice!

How perfect is that! Babbo's for the Babbo Natale Regata.  What a great coincidence.

The Babbo Natale Regata is one of my favorite events of the season in Venice.

For the last several years, on the last saturday before Christmas, the city holds a special regata on the Grand Canal.  The requirement for anyone rowing in the regata, either as a competitor or one of the boats in the corteo (parade) is that everyone must wear a Santa Claus (Babbo Natale) costume. I

Usually, I take up a spot near San Zaccaria vaporetto stop to watch all the Santas rowing. This year, I got to don one of those fantastic costumes myself!  The Pink Lionesses in Venice (of which I am now a member), suited up at the Bucintoro rowing club along the Zattere.

 Here we are waiting to get into the dragonboat ( our sleigh for today's regata)

 Loading up all the Babbe (lady Babbo Natale's) into the boat

                    100 Babbos (technically that would be Babbi) rowing down the Grand Canal on a                                                                  beautiful sunny December morning.

Even the boats are decorated!

We've all arrived at Ca'Foscari.  A very happy bunch of Babbi !

Festive boats!

                                        Buon Natale!

Friday, December 19, 2014

Countdown to Christmas - Italian Style! December 19

photo courtesy www.finecraftguild.com

Day 19 (diciannove)!  Where did this month go to?  We are almost .... almost to Christmas! 

And we're back to a food item behind door number 19 today. Lentils!

I had planned to leave lentils for a later date, but I'm sorry, I just cannot hold out any longer. I've eaten lentils at two holiday dinners already, ate them at home with our own dinner last night, and I'm seeing them in shops all over the city in gift bags (see below).  Yes, that's right, bags of lentils for Christmas gifts! 

Lentils are served as a side dish at holiday meals, traditionally Christmas Eve or New Year's Eve. These little round disk shapes which resemble small coins symbolize good luck to Italians. The more lentils you eat, the more good fortune you are supposed to get. And that good fortune is supposed to translate into exactly that: Fortune. Money. Cash. 

(Note to my husband- I DO NOT want to see a bag of lentils under the Christmas tree. Just a subtle hint :) ). 

Here they are cooked. I love them, they are delicious, and very healthy for you. If you have not tried lentils ever, definitely try them. 

I'm not done with lentils for this holiday season yet. There will be more at both the Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve dinners. 

                                    Buon Natale!

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Countdown to Christmas- Italian Style! December 18

photo courtesy eventstocelebrate.com

Welcome back to Day 18 (diciotto).

I LOVE the concept of today's Advent Calendar. Brilliant idea!

My choice for today is CALZE- or Stockings!  The photo below is our stockings, unfortunately not hung on a mantle because we don't have one.  Instead, I just hang them from a piece of furniture. In Italy, Christmas gifts are delivered by Babbo Natale (Santa Claus) on Christmas Eve.  Stockings are not part of gifts at Christmas, however they are important at the holiday time. Instead, stockings filled with candies (caramelle) for good children or coal (carbone) if you were bad are delivered by the Befana on January 6, the day of Epiphany. Befana is an old witch who flies on a broom made of twigs.

Buon Natale!

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Countdown to Christmas- Italian Style! December 17

photo courtesy www.claphamterrace.info

Day 17 (diciasette) !!  We're just about a week away from Christmas. I can't believe this month has gone by so quickly.

The Advent Calendar I selected for today is probably my favorite. It's exactly like the ones I used to buy every year for my two little girls, with the little windows you open up each day revealing a small piece of chocolate.  I miss this tradition in our house!

The slice of life in Venice during Christmas time that I've decided to share today is Luna Park! If you've been to Venice over the holidays before, you probably are familiar with it. Luna Park is equivalent to a carnival, with rides, and booths for games and food. They are common throughout Italy, usually showing up in a city to coincide with a big festival. In Venice, Luna Park starts around the middle of December and runs through February 1.

The big trucks arrive on a ferry, and get off loaded along the fondamenta near the Public Garden (Giardini) in Castello. Luna Park stretches between Via Garibaldi and the Giardini vaporetto stop. This year, Luna Park is a bit larger than last year. I noticed several more rides and a few more games.

There is a bumper cars for little kids, and also a regular bumper cars booth. 

I think cotton candy (zucchero filato) is a universal standard for carnival food. There are also a few booths selling hot frittelle, nutella crepes, popcorn and lots of candies and nuts. 

The long skinny colored candies are licorice, in various flavors (strawberry, apple, coca cola etc.). Someone at our house (not me) cannot resist the candied pecans. 

Yes, even in Italy there are game booths.

Mike has vowed to win this huge gorilla for me this year!  

This bungee jumping thing is a big hit every year. I just love the Babbo Natale's way up on the top of it!

The only roller coaster is one for little kids. I love that the cars are made to look like a caterpillar. This is a very popular ride here at Luna Park.

It's a sure sign of Christmas in Venice when Luna Park opens up!

                                     Buon Natale!

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Countdown to Christmas- Italian Style! December 16

                                                                       photo courtesy megzimbeck.com

Can you believe it ? We're  already at Day 16 (seidici)!

Typically in Italy, the Christmas decorations are put up on December 8, which is the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. The presepe, holiday lights, Babbo Natale's and Christmas trees get set up in homes, shops and town centers. At our house, even though we had every intention of getting the tree up on December 8, it just didn't happen. Today, thankfully, the tree is up. In celebration of that, today on the Countdown I'm blogging about l'Albero di Natale or the Christmas tree.

Every year in Venice, a large tree is set up in St. Mark's square, and lights are turned on the evening of December 8.  Here's a photo of this year's tree.

St. Mark's is a magical place on a normal day. At Christmas time with thousands of twinkly lights lit not only on the tree but under the three colonnades that surround the square, it is particularly breathtaking.

I remember our first Christmas in Venice. We wondered what in the world people did for Christmas trees. We couldn't imagine where we could go to find a real tree, or better yet, carrying that tree back to an apartment in Venice. There certainly was no place to go cut down a tree. We ended up buying a fake tree in a box, then  carted that big box home on a handcart on the vaporetto, up and over a few bridges and into the apartment. That was the first fake tree I'd ever had in my life. I wasn't happy, but it was the most expedient solution.

You CAN get a real tree in Venice!  They aren't large, but they are real. Many come with the roots in pots even.  Just before December 8, you'll see a vendor set up shop near Ca D'Oro on the Strada Nuova in Cannaregio.  There's another vendor near the mercatino on the Lido, which is in the photo below.

You can see how small most of these trees are. On the bright side- they are real trees!

I even saw trees in the grocery store, for 11.99 Euros each, and have seen people putting these into the grocery trolley and wheeling them home.  It almost makes me want to buy one. Almost.  Then I start thinking about all that hauling and change my mind. I also think about what I'd have to do when it was time to take the tree down and get it out of the apartment. I'm sticking with the large, fake tree. (see below!)

Buon Natale !

Monday, December 15, 2014

Countdown to Christmas- Italian Style ! December 15

Picture of Makedo advent calendar
photo courtesy www.theinstructables.com

Welcome back for Countdown to Christmas Day 15 (quindici) !

Behind door number 15 is something familiar to all families in Italy, no matter which part of the country they are from.  The presepe, or Nativity scene, is a very important part of the Christmas traditions. Families set their presepe up beginning on December 8.  Most are very elaborate, including moving parts, multiple buildings, people, animals and all sorts of interesting accessories, some even including a sun and moon that rise and set mechanically.

The presepe was introduced by Francis of Assisi, who used a living Nativity scene in a cave in the 13th century. The tradition spread throughout Italy, but has been made most famous by the city of Naples wh.ich has hundreds of presepe displayed during the holidays

This Nativity scene, located in a small church in Savona, Italy, includes not only the three wisemen, but also fishermen and their boats. Savona is a seaport, it only makes sense that a presepe here would include something important to the local people.

This photo shows the fishermen bringing their gifts to the Christ child in the manger also. 

Buon Natale!

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Countdown to Christmas- Italian Style! December 14

photo courtesy cupcakeswithsprinkles.blogspot.com

Day 14 (quattordici)!!!

I love the Advent calendar I selected for today. Which has been your favorite calendar so far?  And which has been your favorite Countdown blog?  I have my own personal choices, but I would love to hear yours! Please leave your comments for me. I can't wait to read them.

I'm sharing holiday lights at the Rialto with you today. These are one of my very favorite things about December in Venice. I think we anticipate the days when we see the lights have been strung  in the calles (little streets) between St. Marks and  the Rialto bridge, and on the bridge. It's an absolutely spectacular sight.

The Rialto bridge lit with holiday lights make this very special place even more special. 

At the middle of the bridge you'll find the winged lion, symbol of Venice, in lights. 

Auguri is the Italian word for Best Wishes.  It's used for occasions when you want to congratulate someone, such as after the birth of a baby, or a birthday or graduation.  It is also used during Christmas and New Years.  This particular sign is above a shop in Campo San Bartolomeo, near the bottom of the Rialto bridge.

As you can tell from these photos, Venice is definitely getting ready for the holidays.  Are you?

Buon Natale!

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Countdown to Christmas - Italian Style - December 13

                                             photo courtesy www.thebrisbanekids.com.au

Welcome back to Countdown to Chirstmas-Italian Style Day 13 (tredici).

I'm excited about sharing today's treat with you, as it's a family tradition in my family we've been keeping since as long as I can remember.  My mother always made Christmas cookies, starting around now, the middle of December. We always made the same cookies each year too. She'd make struffoli, a honey drenched little fritter sprinkled with powdered sugar or sprinkles. This is traditionally a holiday treat originating from Naples.

                               Honey Drenched Christmas Fritters: Struffoli
                                                                  photo courtesy food network.com

Here's a link to Mario Batali's recipe for struffoli http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/mario-batali/honey-drenched-christmas-fritters-struffoli-recipe.html

Another traditional cookie made in my family is my grandmother's sugar cookies with cutouts.  I loved using the same cutouts every year- the old Santa, the reindeer, the tree, and the angel cutout.  Every year we'd leave a plate of these cookies out for Santa Claus on Christmas eve, along with a large glass of milk.

 Christmas Sugar Cookie Cutouts

                                                                          photo courtesy Betty Crocker.com

Here's a link to a sugar cookie recipe that is almost identical to the one my grandmother always used.

When I got married and had my own children, I kept up the tradition of making Christmas cookies every holiday season with my girls.  We made my Grandmother's sugar cookie cutouts, thumbprint cookies filled with raspberry and apricot jam, oatmeal cookies and chocolate chip cookies.  I had a collection of favorite cutout shapes we kept for year.

This is a photo of my daughter Shannon at about 3 years old, up to her elbows in cookie dough and flour, working hard making cutouts for Christmas that year. 

Since I've moved to Italy, I still make holiday cookies.  This year I'll be making my old standards- my grandmother's sugar cookies, thumbprint cookies with raspberry and apricot jam, chocolate chip cookies, and shortbread cookies. I've found a new Italian cookie recipe I'm going to add to my collection this year, too. 

Anise Italian christmas cookies
Anise Italian Christmas cookie , photo courtesy www.Tasty-italian-cooking.com

I'm including the recipe here (click on the link below) in case you want to give them a try yourself.

Do you have family cookie traditions too? What are some of your favorites?  I'd love for you to share your favorite recipes too. 

Buon Natale!

P.S. Thank you so much for all the positive comments and email messages in recent days. I'm so happy everyone is enjoying my Advent Calendar series. Keep reading, please. We have a few more days in our countdown before we reach December 25!

Friday, December 12, 2014

Countdown to Christmas - Italian Style! December 12

                                 photo courtesy www.thedishmadison.com

We've made it to Day 12 (dodici)!!!!  We're half way to Christmas already!

I must admit, I'm jumping the gun a tiny little bit with my choice for today. I intended to wait until closer to New Year's Eve with this one, seeing as it is a New Year's Eve Italian tradition- but...
as soon as I saw a vendor at the mercatino the other day with an enormous bin of red underwear for sale, I could not resist.

All over Italy, everyone wears red underwear (mutande) on New Year's Eve (notte di San Silvestro or vigilia di capodanno) for good luck.  There is no rule that it has to be new red underwear, but just in case you needed some, shops start advertising and selling red underwear early in December. Thus, the bin of red mutande!  Everyone, and I mean everyone, believes in the red underwear tradition. Babies, toddlers, moms, dads, even the 95 year olds will all be sporting red underwear.  You can't take any chances when good luck is involved, so you might just as well give it all you've got.

I had to rummage around in this bin for a while. I just could not help myself. Every size and shape underwear you can imagine was in that bin. Everything from itty-bitty thongs to big granny pants. And people were buying.

It wasn't just this industrious vendor over at the local mercatino getting ready for New Year's Eve, either. I passed several high end shops in the San Marco district displaying beautiful red lingerie in their windows.

There doesn't seem to be any requirement that you be Italian to do the wearing of the red underwear for good luck. So, I'm sharing the tradition with all of you. Why not tuck a little bit of red into  the Christmas stockings of all your family members this year?  Who is with me on this? 

Buon Natale!