‘Tis the season, so they say. Deck the halls! It’s likely that whoever called for Christmas cheer and
trimmings in the English carols had never seen an Italian Christmas. If you’re spending the se
ason in the region, you’re in for a treat. Here, where St. Nick is known as Babbo Natale (‘Daddy Christmas’), traditions abound in both private and public settings. Whether you spend an evening simply wandering through the streets in search of a perfect gift, view a live nativity scene, attend a concert or enjoy one of the area’s many Christmas events, the possibilities are endless.
Florence has been prepping for the holidays since the olio nuovo hit the table. Spend too much time
taking in the Christmas themes in vetrine about town and you might miss some of the special
events, however. Or special moments. The TF staff has some suggestions for enjoying the
Christmas season in Florence.
We love the Christmas markets. Until December 12, Stazione Leopolda hosts Florence Noël (daily, 10am to 11pm; see www.florencenoel.it). The entire interior has been transformed into a winter wonderland, featuring everything Christmas imaginable and fun for the whole family: toys; decorations; decked-out stands of accessories, foods, artisan products and jewelry; daily delights for all five senses, including nonstop tastings and a full café for Noel noshing; attractions for the kids (cooking classes for tots every evening at 5:30) and parents alike. Performances of all sorts range from renditions of Charles Dickens’ Christmas Carol to chamber music and choirs. Peruse the exhibit of antique toys or make a donation in the spirit of the season to a charity of your choice at the Solidarity Corner.
Until December 20, piazza Santa Croce is transformed into Santa’s workshop for the city’s annual German Christmas Market (Mercato di Natale di Weihnachtsmarkt, until December 20). Take your aperitivo outdoors. Grab a brat and brew or vin brulé or take a seat in the antique red carousel-cum-bar for pre-dinner drinks or toasty-attire-imperative nightcap.
Along with gift-worthy handmade knickknacks, the fair features artisan products, foods and wines from over 15 countries, making it one great stop for holiday shopping.
On December 18, sate your appetite for artisan at Artingegno a Natale (via Maso Finiguerra, www.artingegno.biz), a street fair and exhibition for all things traditionally handmade and Christmas related. On December 19, piazza della Santissima Annunziata is the site of the Fierucolina di Natale, an uniquely Florentine take on Christmas: Tuscans sell delicious foods and handmade products in the piazza. The fierucolina has been an annual tradition for more than a hundred years, ever since, for reasons lost to time, folk from the Tuscan countryside would converge at Santissima Annunziata to celebrate the birth of the Virgin and the fertility of women generally. Although it’s not a market, the Festa degli Omaggi, on December 20, is another time-honoured Florentine tradition. Men in tights bidding good tidings to the Florentine royal court; teams of flag-throwers: don’t expect to do much Christmas shopping while the Renaissance-themed parade winds through town.
Still at loss for what to get Aunt Mildred? Head out to Le Cascine on December 23. If you’ve never made it to the weekly market (which is, by the way, the biggest outdoor market in Florence), this is your chance. The vendors offer a special holiday version of the usual park-wide market offerings. It’s also TF staffer Federico Lupo’s insider tip for a last-minute, stress-free, cheer-inducing way to spend the final days up to the big day.
Brenda Dionisi says ‘lace up those skates!’ Each year, the Parterre in piazza della Libertà sets up a rink big enough for 200 skaters. With the illuminated arches and tree-lined streets of the piazza as a backdrop, enjoy the ice with a group of friends, family or plus one. Hit Perseus (viale Don Minzoni) for dinner afterwards as an added bonus (some say it serves the best bistecca in town). The piazza is also littered with cafés, so enjoy a coffee or aperitif nearby and make an evening out of it.
Like other chocolate lovers, I thank the stelle all year ‘round for Florence’s gelaterie and cioccolaterie, but the holidays are my time for hot chocolate, which, here in Italy means melted dark chocolate. Head to Vestri on Borgo degli Albizi, 11 for a cup of the magic mix (also an excellent place for confectioned-to-perfection gifts) and instead of adding whipped cream, plop a dollop of fior di latte ice cream in your portable cup, making for a creamy, half-steaming half-cold-creaming delight for the senses. Grom (via dell’Oche) also concocts the same molten delight, which you can pair with just about any flavour you please.
Alexandra Lawrence has treasured Christmas even more since the arrival of her son, Giacomo. She shares some ideas for enjoying the holidays with little ones in ‘Are you KIDding?’ on page 18.
Executive director Marco Badiani urges readers to enjoy a classic: chestnuts roasting on an open fire… The mix of the crisp smell of December air and hot, toasty aroma of caldarroste conjure Christmas like nothing else. You can visit the chestnut vendor on via Calzaiuoli. Or in the spirit of do-it-yourself (see Rachel Priestley’s version of homemade panettone on page 21), you can make roasted chestnuts at home, sans fireplace or even perforated iron pan. For a perfect batch of piping hot bruciate, make a slice in each chestnut, scatter them on a sheet of waxed paper and roast in the oven at 200-250°C for 20 minutes.
Christmas morning is over, the food’s been eaten, presents opened and kids put down for a nap. This is Giacomo Badiani’s favourite Christmas moment. He dons a coat, scarf and hat and takes a stroll through the centre of town, enjoying a silence unlike any since mid-August-only without the heat.
Consult TF’s event listings for even more holiday activities through January 13. As we go to press, Palazzo Vecchio has not yet released the programme for New Year’s Eve. However, you can be sure that Mayor Renzi will want not only to repeat but beat the wild success of last year’s festivities, so Google ‘New Year’s Eve Florence’ to keep up to date on the plans for ringing in 2011 Florence style.Buon Natale a tutti !