December brings renewed excitement to the Roman and medieval towns of Central Italy. There is magic in the air.
The hard work of the fall harvests is done. The grapes have been picked, pressed and tucked away to ferment and age with grace. The olives have been tirelessly harvested and processed to produce the year’s new olive oil (olio nuovo), a premium grade Umbrian olive oil that is rated among the finest in the world.
December Is A Magical Time In Central Italy
As winter days become shorter, holiday lights begin to herald the arrival of Christmas and the promise of a New Year. Music ensembles entertain and delight. Dinner menus fill with enthralling time-honored holiday dishes. Joyful families and extended families, friends and friends of friends, neighbors and shopkeepers gather in warm-hearted celebrations.
Italian goodwill abounds. It is a marvelous time to share the exuberant appreciation of life for which Italians are rightfully famous.
Italian Towns Light Up In December
A Building LIghted By Projectors On The Main Square In Assisi, Italy
Nearly all towns in Central Italy are decked out with colorful twinkling LED lights. Many displays are fashioned in a creative kaleidoscope of ornate holiday designs. The advent of powerful high definition laser light outdoor projectors has added a surreal dimension to the festivities.
Another Building LIghted By Outdoor Projectors In Assisi, Italy
I eagerly look forward to taking visitors to my favorite Italian towns in December. Civic pride and tradition propel the construction of temporary yet extravagant holiday displays in the old historic town center (centro storico). The intriguing displays can include ice-skating rinks and all manner of imaginative presentations that entice you to wander around with a bit of holiday wonder.
I vividly recall a recent December visit to the small town of Todi, a medieval community that is quite unknown to foreigners. The main square was festooned elaborately with huge illuminated displays surrounded by inviting wooden walkways and tall evergreens. The site included a small artificial pond fed by a gurgling stream of water accompanied by surround-sound background melodies. Civic leaders and community volunteers had transformed the town center into a nighttime wonderland.
A Christmas Display With Skating Rink in Todi, Italy
The nearby town of Gubbio is a delightful destination in any season. But in December, it is exquisite.
A Festive Street In Gubbio, Italy
Each year, the town erects a massive display of Christmas lights that depict an enormous outline of a Christmas tree on the face of Monte Ingino mountain which rises impressively behind the town.
According to Guinness Book of World Records, Gubbio has “The World’s Largest Christmas Tree”. This gigantic tree measures 1,500 feet wide at the base and is 2,400 feet tall (450 meters by 750 meters). You can see the outline of the “tree” from miles away.
The World’s Largest Christmas Tree in Gubbio, Italy
Although many displays feature a traditional approach to Christmas themes, other light displays convey a more contemporary look via the latest theatrical stagecraft technology.
A Large Traditional Christmas Tree in Assisi, Italy
(Note The Car On The Lower Right)
Another Christmas Tree In The Centro Storico In Perugia, Italy
Throughout the year, most Italian townspeople observe a long-held tradition of taking a relaxed walk around town (fare una passeggiata) in the early evening with family and friends. December brings the opportunity to wear festive holiday clothing and to see what others are wearing. When encountering friends, it is customary to exchange greetings (buona sera) and express best wishes (auguri).
Pre-Covid, A Large Crowd Gathers On The Main
Shopping & Pedestrian Street In Perugia, Italy
The passeggiata offers a great opportunity to stop and grab a table at a café on one of many squares (the Italian plural word for squares is (piazze) or along the main pedestrian throughfares (strada pedonale). Blankets are often provided under the warmth of outdoor heaters while you enjoy a hot mug of mulled wine, a tasty glass of the local wine, a cup of a hot and frothy cappuccino or a quick snack. You can also sample some traditional holiday sweets.
Traditional Holiday Foods
Food is king in Italy. And Italians can be quite passionate about food. Holiday gifts of sweet cakes are frequently given, much appreciated, and frequently the subject of much debate about which type of cake is the best.
There are two traditional types of holiday cakes: panettone and pandoro.
The origin of the word panettone dates back to the Roman empire, when the ancient Romans sweetened leavened cakes with honey.
Panettone is derived from the Italian word “panetto” which means a small cake loaf. However, in Italian, when you add the suffix “-one” at the end of a word, it changes the word’s meaning to “large”. Thus, panettone is a “large bread cake”.
The Roman version was enhanced in the 15th century in the northern city of Milan. This is the traditional panettone cake served today throughout Italy.
Panettone features a distinctive dome-shaped top with a cylindrical base. Over the years, many different types of panettone have been created but the traditional version contains candied orange, citron, and lemon zest as well as raisins. The dough is similar to American sourdough in that it needs to rise three times before being baked. Panettone is served in a wedge shape and is lightly moist with a spongy texture.
Pandoro was created centuries ago in the northern town of Verona, the purported home of Romeo and Juliet. The word pandoro combines two Italian words: bread (pane) and “of gold” (d’oro) to create the name “pandoro.”
Pandoro is light and airy due to the egg batter which is used to make it. It has a light vanilla taste and is a bit drier than panettone. Pandoro is dusted liberally with powdered sugar prior to serving.