One of the best things about travelling to new places is finding out about different cultures. I’ve come across some interesting Winter traditions, like stalls selling poffertjes in the Netherlands, the eating of boiled sheep’s heads in Norway, or the burning of the (straw) goat in Gävle, Sweden. We’re just back from a fabulous Christmas trip to Passo Tonale, in the Italian Alps. Here are a few of the Winter traditions that I found out about while I was there. Do you know of any more?
Skiing and sauna
Italians love to ski. That was clear from the number of people who joined us on the slopes from Boxing Day, when everyone in the country is on their Winter holidays. We were based at Passo Tonale, on the Lombardy-Trentino border and Tiziano, our ski instructor, told us that people from Milan, Verona and Como liked to come to the resort just for the weekend. While were were there a few of the small villages nearby held torchlit ski processions, to celebrate the opening of the season. Watching tens of glowing lights, zipping down the mountain towards you, is a toe-tingling experience.
After the skiing, there is, of course, the sauna. Most Italian ski resorts boast at least one sauna. At Passo Tonale, the 3,000m high Presena glacier had a sauna at a mid-way station – so you could literally have a sauna on the glacier. How cool is that?
Pannetone and pandoro
Pannetone is a sweet, yeasty bread loaf with dried fruit. Much lighter and more fluffy than the fruit cake traditionally eaten at Christmas in the UK, the festive pannetone often comes with a twist. We had a choice of pistachio, chocolate and cream-filled versions, as well as the traditional fruit. I might just have sampled them all…..
Pandoro is also eaten at Christmas in the Italian Alps. Like pannetone it’s a tall cake, but it is star-shaped, with a delicate yellow texture inside.
The Alpine region is famed for its Christmas markets, and Italy is no exception. In markets in the Alpine villages you’ll usually find local handicrafts, and food and drink, like the mountain cheese and speck (a type of dried meat) popular at Passo Tonale. These markets are great places to pick up souvenirs, or even just to take a festive stroll, with the scent of warm spiced wine hanging in the air. Christmas markets in the Alps run later in the year than those in the UK. Most remain open until at least Epiphany (January 5), and our local market, at Temu, didn’t even open until December 29.
Befana, or the Christmas Witch, is said to deliver presents to Italian children on the eve of Epiphany (January 5). Like Father Christmas, she comes down the chimney; unlike Santa, though, she’s sometimes believed to sweep the floors of houses she visits, to clear away the problems of the year. So despite her haggard appearance, she’s a benevolent sprite really.
Do you know of any Winter traditions, from the Alps or elsewhere, that are different to those in the UK or US? Do let me know, in the comments below.
This is a collaborative post. All views are my own.
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