An expat Christmas or Death by Cenone

An expat Christmas #COSItaly

Christmas celebrations are seriously religious here in Italy but the true religion is not in a church but at the table, a hedonistic ritual which demands extensive preparation and consumption. Celebrations begin on the Eve’s yes the big meals are Christmas Eve and New Years Eve which stuff you with so much food you don’t want to eat for another year.

The Italian Cenone is the essence of gluttony. Attending my first vigilia celebration I was reminded of an ancient Roman or Renaissance court banquet, where the food is excessive and the wine overflowing.

A Sicilian menu is endless: starting with appetizers like bruscetta, arancini rice balls, fried bread batter, canapes, cheeses, ham and cold meats, then a selection of pasta dishes which could be anything like lasagna, cannelloni, tortellini, farfalle or fussili prepared with an array of rich sauces ranging from hefty béchamel flavored with smoked salmon, porcini mushrooms or the classic Bolognese. The menue varies depending in which part of Italy you find yourself. Some believe each Vigilia  must be celebrated only with seafood, wherein the menu is revised but in these trying times of economic crisis this tends be over looked.

A normal menu can include main courses of roasted beef, pork, lamb, chicken, baby kid, wild boar, stuffed pigs feet, fried crumbed veal cutlets, fried baccala or cod, seafood salad, Russian coleslaw or lobster. Everything is washed down with red and white wines, topped off with a selection of exotic and winter fruits such as pineapple, dried figs stuffed with hazelnuts, oranges, mandarines.

Then there is the obligatory slab of Panettone or Pandoro Christmas cake for those who don’t like sultanas or caramelized fruit. Not to mention the endless desserts like liquor drenched dumplings, cannoli, profiterole cream puffs and alike!

Finally there is a glass of sparkling Spumante for good luck, before a night of indigestion and antacids.

For those brave of heart and strong of stomach you might indulge in a shot of digestive liquor ranging from potent Grappa, sour as hell Amaro, lemony Lemoncello or deliciously light chocolate or hazelnut delights.

Italians consume all of this and more. It is a well-known fact during this time of crisis Italian’s may have cut back on buying gifts yet not so on their food spending for these special occasions. The Cenone is sacred and it’s only once a year, thank goodness!

The abundance of Christmas provisions serves to be shared with equally abundant friends and family as the festive season is where the gregarious Italian culture finds its true expression, it is excessive but needs to be as you never know how many relatives will show up between Christmas and new years.

Buon Natale to everyone and to all a good Nye celebration.


Sicilian Mercatini di Natale

I have always been a sucker for Italian open air markets, it is wonderfully civilized to go out once a week to buy your fresh fruit and vegetables, local produce and on special occasions like Christmas pick up cute little gifts, antiques and fashion.

Baby shoes at Sicilian markets

I am always on the look out for a special gift for my little boy, but I always end up buying him shoes, as Italian shoes are so stylish.

Shoes at Markets

Then I always see some beauties for me … those heels are deadly but they are really a work of art aren’t they?

Sicilian antique gramophone

I’m always surprised by what I find, this gramophone was impressive, I asked to photograph it but I should have asked how much he wanted for it.

Scarves textures

There is something chaotic and unexpected about markets, it’s not about rummaging through bargain basement bins, rather discovering different textures, sights and enjoying the sensual experience.

Scarf and jewelry at markets

It is part Moroccan bazaar and an extended expression of creativity and Italian style with many stores choosing to sell their latest creations at the markets

Italian fashion markets

Sicilian markets are a feast for the senses, frying panini bread rolls, barbecues, roasting chestnuts, kebabs, impressive spruiking, handmade fashion, things that have fallen off the back of a truck, scarves galore and literally hundreds of stalls to explore.

Candy at Christmas market

The Sicilian Mercatini di Natale are a cornucopia of colours, tastes and experiences. The island of the sun gives us wonderfully sunny days of shopping to enjoy it all.

Torrone at Christmas Markets

Hazelnut and almond sugar-coated slabs of Torrone are consumed at every festa during the year but, they taste better at Christmas.

Mercatini di Natale

The Christmas market above all reminds you Christmas is around the corner …


An Expat’s Open Letter to Babbo Natale


Father christmas


Dear Father Christmas,


As you know every Christmas I experience away from my family and friends is always tinged with guilt and melancholy. Even if the blessings of my children and new friends distract me from dwelling on negativity. Such is the life of an expat.


I don’t particularly want any gifts for Christmas, I was writing to you to let you know how I’m going to make sure you pass on my love onto everyone.


St Nicholas


This year has been wonderful thanks to my blogging, I’ve had numerous compliments and have met several people on similar journeys to mine which has helped me to feel less isolated and has encouraged me to continue my writing in all its forms. I’ve finished my first book and I’m well into a second which will be a collection of essays and I have many new ideas.


Dearest St Nick I ask you to give everyone I’ve met this year a warm embrace and thank them for their kind words. As for my wonderfully open and loving family I give them my love as always. And for you Santa, I pray everyone remembers Christmas should be about giving of themselves and not giving to others.


Until next year.


A warm embrace.



The fantasy of Cinepanettone and Fantaghirò


Apart from the usual annual preparations for Christmas like the tediousness of gift buying, yuletide menu planning and gift wrapping there is the tradition of the Christmas movie.

Everyone has their favorite whether it be a black and white Jimmy Stewart classic, a kitsch Father Christmas tale, the Grinch that stole Christmas or endless tired rehashed versions of Dickens’ Christmas Carol.

Italian’s love going to the Cinema at this time of year. There is a specific term that describes the popular slapstick, feel good comedy that comes out this time of the year. For many years the comic duo of Christian De Sica and Massimo Boldi made terrible Cine-panettone movies dedicated to bad taste and easy laughs that are so popular in the Italian market! It is literally trashy Cinema to be consumed with your panettone Christmas cake.


Even if De Sica and Boldi have gone their own separate comic ways, this year we have Di Sica’s Colpi di fortuna (Lucky strike)which promises to be the usual awful bad taste humor playing on the idea of bad luck and the Italians desire to avoid it.

On the television instead we have been blessed with reruns of the Italian fantasy cult classic of Fantaghirò, which is in another league completely to Christmas time cinema.

Based on one of Italo Calvino’s Italian folklore tales, the saga tells of the youngest tomboyish,cross dressing daughter of a warmonger King who goes into battle to bring peace to her war ravaged kingdom. Over the five different series through a mixture of encounters with magical creatures, witches, dragons, knights duals and love at first sight Princess Fantaghiro’ goes through an epic journey that would make any Renaissance poet tremble at his knees!


Starring Alessandra Martines, Kim Rossi Stuart and Brigitte Nielsen the early nineties series has enjoyed wide spread popularity and has been dubbed into thirteen different languages. The Fantaghiro’ saga has become a classic of Italian t.v and is openly welcomed with festive affection into Italian’s living room at this time of year.


My young son loves the mixture of magic, sword battle and bewitching creatures Fantaghiro’ encounters and is transfixed before the slightly stilted puppetry based special effects. As Christmas movies go I’m glad there are no references to gifts, Father Christmas or any of the toilet humor of Cinepanettoni.

I don’t mind the fantasy of Fantaghiro’ as it seems apt to the spirit of the festive season.






Click on the links for a definition of this genre (in Italian), an english critic’s point of view and more details on Fantaghiro.

(Images from Google images)

So this is Christmas…


You can tell it’s nearing Christmas as our house is littered with Pandoro and Panettone boxes as the consumption of Christmas sweets is well underway.


My young son refuses to let me throw a single one away as he has a hundred and one uses for them.


He turns them into helmets, masks, decorates them in hundreds of different ways he even tore one up and wrote me many coded messages on the pieces which he promptly stuck together in a panettone collage!


My favourite of his inventions is the Pandoro box tiger cage, which is below:





Here’s to a creative yuletide to all and a tidier New Year when all the sweets are done!