02 Dec A Calabrian Christmas: let the eating begin!
I always knew Italians were obsessed with their food, but until moving down to the south of Italy, I had never really eaten so much that I wanted to roll over and pass out after a meal. This is pretty much a common occurrence for me every Sunday afternoon after lunch at my in-laws. However, at Christmas time, I know I will probably have to starve myself in the days before to able to fit in the amount of food that will be served up.
Food is an essential part of the Italian culture. Eating with family and friends is a celebration in itself. Christmas in Calabria is not just a one-day festa. Celebrations start Christmas Eve, and go on until Boxing Day. That is three days of eating! The amount of food that is consumed in those three days could usually feed our family of four for a couple of weeks.
My mother-in-law loves to feed people, and she is an amazing cook. You can’t walk into her house without her offering you something to eat, even if you aren’t visiting at meal times. Christmas time for her is heaven.
She wakes up early, and when I say early, I mean the crack of dawn, so she can get started making fresh pasta from scratch. Using fresh produce from the local markets, she makes sure there is plenty to go around. I am always amazed watching her prepare the food by feel and taste. With no recipe, she knows when the pizza dough is perfect, or when the polpete (meatballs) have enough flavour.
Dinner on Christmas Eve usually consists of fish, where as Christmas Day and Boxing Day is meat. There are always multiple servings of different pasta including my favourites, lasagne and parmigiana (layered eggplant, cheese and tomato dish). Roasted beef or lamb, and of course cottolette (schnitzel).
Christmas wouldn’t be complete without dolce! (sweets) A glass of prosecco along with some torroncini (a typical Italian nougat kind of nut sweet), panatone, (a sweet bread usually with dried fruit) tiramisu (a creamy coffee cake), and cannoli (fried pastry shell filled with sweet ricotta). Dessert is followed by all types of different nuts and fresh fruits. All of this topped off with some limoncello and a game of tombola, the Italian version of bingo.
It’s not like you can say no either. The Calabrese get offended if you don’t clean your plate, Italians need to be constantly assured that you have enjoyed their meal! I make sure I am wearing lose pants during the Christmas period, or at least a long top over my jeans so I can unbutton as I eat!
Family time is extremely important. Cousins and other family members are constantly dropping in and out, visiting during the days and evenings. My family live in Australia, and we have visited for a couple of Christmas’s over the years. The years we weren’t in Italy for Christmas, my in-laws didn’t even put up the Christmas tree. For them it wasn’t Christmas without us.
When I compare an Italian Christmas, to the Australian Christmas, it really is the complete opposite. My family in Australia usually go out for dinner together for Christmas Eve. Christmas Day is usually spent having a barbeque or roast, and sitting in the backyard garden, or by the pool all day with a few drinks.
We still love our food, and we eat a lot of it, but it isn’t as important as it is in Italy, and especially Calabria. For the Calabrese, food is life. When they aren’t eating, they are thinking about, or planning their next meal. Christmas time in Calabria is like heaven on a plate.
Mangia bene, vivere bene! Eat well, live well!
Chontelle Bonfiglio is an Australian mother of two boys living in Italy. She is a writer, blogger, and creator of Bilingual Kidspot, a website for parents raising bilingual or multilingual children.