Discovering Calabria's Christmas traditions

Journey through Christmas customs in Calabria
VV-Nicotera-Via del Vischio 3

© Regione Calabria

Tradition and folklore

The magic of Christmas in Calabria brings us all back to childhood, drawing on familiar imagery, made up of customs, recipes, sounds, scents, group games, and the conviviality of gathering together around a lit fireplace.

Each town stages its own Christmas traditions, many of which are more Mediterranean than Nordic in origin, and reveals to visitors the unseen face of Calabria under the festive season.

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Christmas in Calabria, traditions and legends

The voyage of discovery of Calabrian Christmas traditions goes back in time, a night illuminated by the tales of the elders, who once again resorted to the ancient Greek of Calabria to count the so-called catàmisi, ("to announce", in this case referring to the Advent period), i.e. the 12 days, from 13 (Saint Lucia) to 24 December (Christmas Eve), corresponding to the 12 months of the year, from which auspices and predictions for the year to come are derived.

Stories and legends, those of Christmas in Calabria, that weave together the sacred and the profane, paganism and Christianity, taking us back to a close relationship with the agro-pastoral world marked by work in the fields.

Regione Calabria

One of the Calabrian Christmas traditions still in use is the heartfelt one of the Christmas Bonfire (depending on the locality, also called fòcari, Fuoco della Vigilia), or the custom of lighting a large pyre of fire in front of the town's Mother Church, where the "Midnight Mass" is celebrated on Christmas Eve, and letting it burn until dawn as a sign of purification and rebirth of light over darkness.

There are many towns in which to admire the Christmas bonfires, from the north to the south of Calabria: for example, in the historic centres of Scigliano and Bocchigliero (the latter on the night between 7 and 8 December, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception) in the province of Cosenza; in Marcedusa, an ethnic Arbëreshë town in the province of Catanzaro, and Petronà, in the same province; in the centre of Crotone, on the occasion of Saint Lucia (night between 12 and 13 December).

Christmas night in Calabria is also entrusted with the passage of the magical-religious formulas against the evil eye and affàscino, which Calabrian women hand down from mother to daughter.

Christmas music

A common thread linking the past to the present, Christmas music in Calabria passes through the songs of pastoral tradition and ancient wind instruments that accompany two unmissable moments of Christmas in Calabria: the strìna (strenna) and the novena.

The Christmas strìna in Calabria is among the best-loved musical traditions and consists of songs and choruses of good wishes, the so-called "air songs", sung in the streets of villages in the morning and evening, usually between 8 December (Immaculate Conception) and 6 January (Epiphany). The singers are often accompanied by "ammàccasàli" (salt pestles) and instruments such as the beating guitar, tambourine and accordion.

Instead, the Calabrian pipers, the true guardians of tradition, are entrusted with the task of "playing the novena" house by house, in all the villages of Calabria, accompanied by the sound of the traditional pipìte (flutes) during the nine days leading up to Christmas.

Regione Calabria

Christmas dishes in Calabria

The Christmas table in Calabria imposes a tradition to be observed strictly and everywhere, from north to south: setting the table with the 13 courses on Christmas Eve (with the variant of nine, in some villages).

The choice of the number 13 refers to Jesus' table with the 12 apostles, while the nature of the dishes is always based on vegetables and fish, in particular spaghetti ammuddicàti (breadcrumbs and anchovies) and salt cod; broccoli and savoury zeppole (crespelle).

Calabrian Christmas sweets are many: from chocolate-covered stuffed figs to Torrone di Bagnara PDO; from homemade pitte 'nchiùse to turdìlli, mostacciòli and susumèlle.

Torrone di Bagnara
Regione Calabria

Ultimo aggiornamento: Feb 14, 2024 2:28 PM