Welcome to Christmas in Venice!
Over the next month, I am going to be bringing you series of articles and recipes for the festive season from Italy’s most unique and magical city. Based on my own family traditions, those of other Venetians, and recipe books, Chestnuts and Truffles will give you all you need to have a Venetian Christmas in the comfort of your own home, wherever that may be. If you are lucky enough to be visiting the city itself, I will also give you insider tips as to make the most of Christmas on the ground.
I recently asked a group of Venetian nonnas what was the one dish without which it wouldn’t be Christmas. They responded by telling me their entire menus for Christmas including some family recipes I’d never heard of. They’ve given me permission to share all this information with you and so we’re in for a really authentic time.
As with all Italian meals, Venetian Christmas meals consist of antipasti (appetizers), primi (starters), secondi (main courses), and dolci (desserts) and over the next few weeks I will cover them all. And don’t worry, I will publish them all in good time for you to do all the shopping and preparation for the big day.
To get you in the mood let’s have a wander round Venice as it gets ready for the season.
A wander round Venice on a December evening
As always, the Rialto area, at the heart of the city, is the heart of Christmas. The shops are all starting to put on their Christmas best and trees and Santas are in abundance. The recently renovated Fontego dei Todeschi—which started its life as a sixteenth-century commercial centre, then became a post office, and is now a luxury department store—is leading the way with trees, both outside and in.
However, Italy being a Roman Catholic Country, cribs and nativity scenes are also in evidence. The nativity tradition is supposed to have been started in Umbria by Saint Francis of Assisi, but now the most famous crib figures come from Naples. Close to the Fontego, by the church of San Zuan Gristostomo is a small kiosk selling Neapolitan-style crib figures which are really beautiful. If you are in Venice for Christmas these would make really good, and high-quality souvenirs.
Italy being Italy however, there is always some humour. A few doors down from the kiosk, the famous food store Giacomo Rizzo, has set up a nativity scene made almost entirely of pasta.
Many of the shops have now started stocking Christmas food, much of which I am going to be describing to you or showing you how to make over the next couple of weeks. Just on the other side of the Rialto Bridge is the famous Drogheria Mascari which has one of the most traditional window displays of Christmas food.
The end of November, beginning of December is low season for Venice, probably the only real time of the year when it’s so. Wandering the streets of Venice can be a joy, since many campi and calli are almost completely abandoned. It’s also a great time to see the city in the dark, since the sun sets at about 16.30 in December so it’s dark by about 17.00. When it’s not foggy or raining, you get amazing views of the moon, since there is little light pollution in the city. It’s also cold at this time of year, with average temperatures of about 4°C (39°F)—This only adds to the Christmas atmosphere.
They are just putting the finishing touches to the Christmas lights in the Piazza San Marco. The colonnades all around the square are finished, but the Christmas tree, this year in the Piazzetta outside the Doge’s Palace, hasn’t been turned on yet. At this time of year, the eighteenth century cafés, such as the famous Florian come into their own, serving the traditional cioccolata calda (hot chocolate) that Venetians have been drinking for about four hundred years. We will be looking at hot chocolate, and showing you how to make it, Venetian style, in the next post.
If it’s too late for a cioccolata calda a short walk across the Accademia Bridge will take you to what I think is the best bacaro in Venice for a glass of prosecco and some of my favourite chichéti. Well, it is almost Christmas. We’ll be looking at how to prepare a set of Venetian style chichéti for a party later in the series.
So, I hope I’ve whetted your appetite for a Venetian Christmas. We’ll kick off with the recipes tomorrow, so don’t forget to bookmark or follow this site.
Have you ever been in Venice at Christmas? I’d love to hear your experiences.