December 8th: the official start of the holiday season in Italy
The 8th December is an important Italian national holiday which kicks off the holiday season. The Immacolata Concezione (Immaculate Conception) is celebrated throughout Italy by setting up all the Christmas decorations, but in addition to that there are many local traditions. Especially in Calabria, where Christmas has also a folkloristic flavor mixed with religious traditions.
The festive atmosphere is enlivened by bagpipers. For the Festa dell’Immacolata, they pave the way to the church for Mass, which will be followed by the procession. The players animate the Calabrian villages playing their zampogna, the traditional instrument par excellence. From the encounter between music and folklore, another tradition typical of this period has originated: the Strina. Characteristic of the northern part of Calabria, it is an augural song of ancient origins. In the past, the musicians used to go from house to house playing traditional instruments and singing in choir to bring the “good news” of Christ’s birth. As a sign of gratitude, the singers were offered food and wine, in the name of the hospitality distinctive of Calabrian people.
On this day culinary traditions also make their seasonal appearance. In some villages the Perciavutta takes place, literally meaning “open the cask”. The Immaculate Conception is celebrated thereby through conviviality: new wine is tasted with grespelle brought as a gift by friends and neighbors. Scrumptious fried creations are Calabrian classics at Christmastime. They go by countless names, depending on where you’re eating them: Crispelle, grispelle, zeppole, zippuli, cullurielli, cuddrurieddri, to rattle off a few.
Overall this period, between one church bell and another, revolves around special moments that hearken back to the simpler things of life and create an unforgettable atmosphere. A mixture of popular music, tradition and ritual conviviality, everything that constitutes the distinctive feature of Southern Italy.
Francesca Politi - JUMP Team