Sicilian Christmas Eve 2022: traditions and foods
The atmosphere of Christmas, in Sicily, can be felt in the air as early as mid-November. The streets are colored with lights, store windows are filled with decorations, objects and gastronomic delights, panettone and colorful baskets.
In Sicilian villages, markets attract people from all over the island and the world, amid the inviting scents of sweets and candied fruit, while Christmas music cheers shopping and brings joy to the streets. Amidst stalls, carols, traditional dishes, living nativity scenes and Christmas villages, the atmosphere becomes magical, both for children and adults.
Is Sicily only beautiful in the summer? Absolutely not. In winter, indeed, it becomes even more evocative and extraordinary, with postcard-perfect landscapes and medieval and baroque villages that turn into real fairy-tale places for Christmas.
Traditions thousands of years old add something that is impossible to find elsewhere, and every place, from East to West, retraces its customs giving a special and unique Christmas. Ready to discover the traditions and foods of Sicilian Christmas Eve 2022?
Christmas Eve traditions (and more)
Christmas in Sicily is a much-awaited, magical time, like anywhere else in the world. The charm of traditions that never pass, and that from generation to generation come alive again and are colored with new memories and colors.
The love for the customs of the past, for the customs and stories that tell of an extraordinary Sicily, impossible to know all the way through and that is capable of surprising every time.
And then of course, the love of family and friends, which we really get to enjoy at Christmas. A break from routine, from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. A gift we love to give ourselves, because at Christmas there is a different atmosphere, made of flavors, scents, people, traditions that make everything incredibly magical.
Here, this magic we want you to feel it, together with us.
Between songs and novenas
Folk traditions that combine a love of religious worship, musical performance, songs and a past of which Sicilians are still proud, such as that of the Sicilian itinerant singers.
The singers, today as then, accompany with bagpipes, ciaramedde (wind instruments) and songs the novena of Longi, in the province of Messina, or that of Monreale, in the province of Palermo. Two of the most important representations of the Holy Family, which for Christmas continue to be authentic symbols of the sacred and love of tradition.
Hence the “zampognari” and “ciaramiddari” and also the tradition of decorating the little altar, called “Cona” (icon), with oranges, tangerines, lemons, along with homemade sweets, quince, mostarda, dried figs and dates with the wish for a prosperous future.
Traditions in the villages: the charm of the Living Nativity Scenes
Christmas in Sicily is rich in sacred, secular and gastronomic traditions. Until recently, the Christmas atmosphere began to be felt only from the beginning of December, when for the celebration of the Immaculate Conception the Christmas tree was decorated and the traditional Nativity scene was prepared. Now, influenced by customs from northern European countries, the Christmas mood in Sicily also kicks in a little early.
Very characteristic are the living nativity scenes, some of which have become increasingly famous. From the one in Cava d’Ispica to the one in Giarratana, via the one in Gangi, one is spoiled for choice. Figurantes recreate scenes of the nativity, in caves and other evocative settings. Life in the Sicily of yesteryear is reconstructed, amid bagpipes and singing. Ancient crafts are found.
The Living Nativity is one of those much-loved traditions that, from year to year, acquires more value and becomes a unique opportunity to tell stories and customs that still resist modernity and thoughtless consumption.
A tradition that is deeply felt throughout the island and that, depending on the village, takes on different characteristics. Some villages are transformed into real living Nativity scenes and the inhabitants become characters and protagonists of an extraordinary past. Between the sound of bagpipes and Novenas, they stage ancient crafts.
Among the most representative Living Nativity Scenes is that of Forza d’Agrò, a beautiful medieval village in the province of Messina, and that of Palazzolo Acreide, in the province of Syracuse. Also in eastern Sicily, another village is tinged with costumes and symbols of the past. We are talking about the living nativity scene in Caltagirone, the capital of Sicilian ceramics. Here the nativity scene represents a true art form that engages Caltagirone artisans throughout the year. In the splendid Baroque setting, the city i mmerges in the Christmas spirit, reconciling the centuries-old tradition of nativity scenes with the most modern markets, decorations and tastings of typical products.
The tradition of the Zucco
Another tradition still alive in many towns in eastern Sicily is that of the “Zucco,” a bonfire that is lit on Christmas Eve in front of churches. This is probably a custom of pagan origin that derives from the fires lit in ancient times on the occasion of the winter solstice to “help” the sun make its journey and around which people danced. In Christian terms it is ideally regarded as the fire that warms Jesus or lights the way to the hut.
Such a tradition still endures and is very much felt in some cities. One example is Acireale where, in the magical setting of the baroque Piazza Duomo, the community, religious and otherwise, gathers around the fire for a moment of jubilation that unites young and old.
Everywhere, not only in Sicily, when the word Christmas is uttered, the first associations of thought evoke the family and not least the Christmas Dinner and Lunch; what distinguishes Sicilians, however, is the “institutional” character that is given to such convivial moments.
Christmas Eve scacciata, scaccia or, simply, focaccia!
On December 24, for Christmas Eve, one of the most special Christmas traditions ever takes place in Sicily: the preparation of the Christmas Eve scacciata, focaccia or scaccia!
The Christmas Eve scacciata is an occasion to gather everyone, friends and relatives, around the table. But what is this scacciata? It is a kind of stuffed flatbread that, depending on the area where it is prepared, gives different aromas and flavors. Usually, it is prepared with potatoes and sausage or with broccoli and tuma, but also with spinach and caciocavallo cheese. Or, with lots of imagination and ingredients of your choice!
Family traditions, between games and festive tables
One cannot talk about Christmas in Sicily without talking about the festively set tables. If lights color the streets, Sicilian foods and traditional dishes grace the tables to bring together friends and family, offering a rich kermis of symbols of Sicilian gastronomic tradition.
“Christmas” in Sicily is a table setting, a triumph of flavors that come to life with baked pasta dishes, falsomagro, crispelle and gluttonous delicacies such as fried cod, buccellato (or cucciddatu), and crispy nougats like giuggiulena or cubbaita and petrafennula (a crunchy made with honey, almonds, citron and orange peels, sugared almonds and cinnamon).
Since ancient times, it has been a good tradition to gather with friends and relatives to make typical Christmas sweets together. A time to share in the kitchen: all together in one house, baking treats to give as gifts and to keep for oneself.
Not only for Christmas Eve, but also for lunch, dinner and Saint Stefan’s Day (… and for the most daring, you go on eating until New Year’s Day!), tables are filled with platters full of typical Sicilian cheeses and cold cuts, from piacentino ennese to tuma, from Sicilian pecorino to ricotta, from Nebrodi salami to scaccia, from dried fruit to fried cod.
Among the all-time favorite desserts, even for Christmas, there is no shortage of cannoli, traditional cassata, oven baked cassata, rice crispelle with honey, nucatole and almond cookies. But also artisanal panettoni from all over Sicily. There is no worrying about the line, just thinking about enjoying gastronomic delicacies in company and enjoying a feast that lasts for days.
In fact, the only breaks are granted to enjoy an amaro, a bitter or a liqueur, or to play Seven and a Half, Tombola, TiVitti or traditional games such as Il Mercante in Fiera or the Zicchinedda, a game that originates from Leonardo Sciascia’s masterpiece, “Il Giorno della Civetta“.
No use backing down. The important thing is to survive the big eats and games until Epiphany and fully enjoy the true spirit of Christmas.
Christmas markets in Sicilian villages
At Christmas, festive markets are set up in squares and main streets throughout Sicily, from Trapani to Syracuse. They brighten up the streets and alleys of towns, transforming them into small festive villages.
Stalls and craft stores, fairs and markets, events, traveling Christmas tours and Santa Claus villages come to life in the island’s most characteristic town centers and villages. Like the Christmas Village Tour 2.0, a real traveling Christmas village set up inside a tractor-trailer that reaches some of Sicily’s best-known towns to entertain young and old alike.
In Agrigento, there is even a Santa Claus House. Set up at the Palacongressi in the charming village of Villaggio Mosè, Santa’s House surprises the little ones with games, animations and shows, workshops and crazy sets.
Don’t miss “Christmas in the Window“, an exhibition of ancient and modern nativity scenes and Christmas-themed creations made by skilled potters from Caltagirone. In Acireale there is a nativity scene made inside a cave of volcanic origin. It is located in Santa Maria la Scala, inside the small church called Santa Maria della Neve, also known as “A Rutta” (the cave).
Also in Acireale, there is a festive air thanks to events and markets organized throughout the Christmas season along the streets of the center. What about Santa’s Mill set up inside the old watermill? It is located in Novara di Sicilia!
Even more distinctive and spectacular is the large Elf Village and Santa’s House of Santa’s Village set up in the Eufemius Castle. A small train will take you directly there, where elves, storytellers and magical atmospheres will captivate young and old alike.
And why not visit the most beautiful and characteristic Sicilian villages, which turn into magical and memorable places at Christmas? Like Erice, Calatafimi-Segesta, Novara di Sicilia, Castelbuono or Modica, where markets, stalls and nativity scenes tell all the beauty and wonder of the most authentic Sicily?
These are just some of the events and occasions to experience a magical Christmas in Sicily.
Ready to enjoy it with us?