Sicily is one of the most popular destinations for tourists and travelers of all kinds. Every year, millions of people from all around the world choose Sicily to spend their holidays attracted by its sunny climate, breathtaking landscapes, delicious cuisine, history and architecture. Due to its central position in the Mediterranean Sea, Sicilian culture, language and habits are a result of combining uncountable civilizations that have melted together along the centuries. Greeks, Phoenixes, Romans, Arabs, Normans and Spanish they have all has their part in the country’s history. Traditions and celebrations are also the results of the melting pot of cultures and rituals.
Christmas and New Year’s Eve are two of the most important celebrations in Sicily. Christmas celebrations begin on the 8th of December, when families start decorating their homes with the Christmas tree and the Nativity. Although Christmas trees are nowadays very common among Italian and Sicilian families, the most authentic Sicilian tradition is the Nativity. The “Presepe” can be found in most homes and the vast majority of churches and squares. One of the most suggestive versions of the nativity scene on the island is the “Presepe Vivente” in which locals dress up and act like the Holy Family and many other characters. Many of these characters impersonate traditional jobs and professions that nowadays are almost completely lost. Such tradition takes place until the Epiphany mainly in small towns and villages. Two of the most beautiful ones ones are held in Custonaci and Caltabellotta.
Larger cities, such as the capital, Palermo, and the beautiful Catania also dress up with their best celebration suit. High streets and traditional markets as well as shops and restaurants are decorated with lights and sparkling decorations. Since Christmas gifts need to be bought, Sicilians go out in search of the best present for their friends and relatives. After the shopping session, thanks to the warm temperatures, Sicilians like to meet up in bars and restaurants. Some of them prefer walking around drinking a glass of wine in beautiful terraces and some others…prefer going for a “passeggiata” along the beach. Many people still remember the Christmas season of 2009 when many Sicilians and tourists had the chance to have a sunbath and get tanned on the beaches of Trapani or Agrigento. Something very typical for Sicilian people is to meet up at some friend’s place to play cards, eat dried fruits and talking over and have party until late at night.
Christmas holidays are very important for Sicilians because for many of them this means going back to their homeland. Many of them work in the mainland or abroad, and they come back to hug their families and friends. For this reason, every day on Christmas time represents a good chance to spend time with people they love and hardly can see during the rest of the year.
Gastronomically speaking, Sicily gives its best as the rest of the year. Banquets of legendary dimensions where any kind of cheese, meat, pasta, seafood and desserts are served are the best occasion for families to nurture their need of union and to strengthen their ties which such importance have in the Sicilian culture. Cassata, Cannoli and Torta Setteveli are the most popular desserts for which Sicilian go literally crazy. Serious eating begins on Christmas Eve after which presents are opened.
One week later it is time for the “cenone”, the big dinner to celebrate the New Year. This is the chance for every family member to show off his or her culinary abilities. What you eat is not important as long as there are copious quantities. After dinner families start playing cards until 10 minutes before midnight, when everybody starts preparing to hail the New Year after the final countdown with the opening of one or more bottles of spumante.
After midnight people meet up with friends in squares, discos and bar in order to celebrate till the next morning with music, shows and concerts. The final act of the Christmas celebrations takes place on Epiphany on 6th January, when Children wait spasmodically the arrival of La Befana, an old ugly witch-like figure who distributes sweets to children who have been good, and coal to those who have not.
This post was written by NH Hoteles employee Dario Vetrano, Central Reservations Office in Madrid.