Thursday, November 29, 2012

Christmas in Tuscany

Traditionally, in Italy, the holiday of the Immaculate Conception on Dec. 8th marked the official start of the Christmas season. Today, as is the custom in many other nations, the date has been pushed back and by late November the countdown to Christmas usually begins. Street lights and decorations go up, stores windows display their festive regalia while piping in Christmas carols and offering special promotions (among the foreign customs which have now been adopted here to promote the commercial side of the holidays). However, one of the nicest traditions that has taken hold over the years are the local holiday markets and fairs.

Originally a custom in northern Europe, Christmas markets are now an important part of Italy’s holiday tradition. Throughout Tuscany, both in the larger cities and the small towns, this is the season to experience the festive atmosphere of these charming markets. Beautiful handicrafts and wonderful food specialties fill the stands that line the major town squares. The churches display beautiful nativity crèches – with handmade figurines that attest to the ancient artisan tradition which has made Italy famous around the world. Some towns hold medieval markets which evoke the historic origins of this customary celebration – with jugglers and street performers dressed in period costumes to create the proper setting.

So, thankfully, there still is a way to enjoy the holiday season in a more traditional fashion. 
Clearly one can purchase gifts and decorations, but the nice thing is that there are unique products to choose from which defy the current trend of global commercialization. It is the perfect chance to sample some of the delicious seasonal foods that can only be found at this time of year. And, of course, all of this takes place in some of Tuscany’s most beautiful cities and towns, which become even more magical when decked out in their holiday best.

There are many locations to choose from, and most locals and visitors often try to see more than one during the season.
Florence pays homage to the Germanic origins of the Christmas market by hosting the German Christmas Market in Piazza Santa Croce from Nov. 28 through Dec. 16. 

Vendors come from abroad to share their countries’ typical crafts and gastronomic specialties in one of the city’s most beautiful piazzas.

Many churches throughout the city have nativity scenes that are worth a visit, but DO NOT miss the stunning crèches displayed at the cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, best known as the Duomo, from Dec. 8th. 

The exquisite terracotta figures in this majestic setting are truly impressive. 

Another unique event in Florence is the Cavalcata dei Magi
(the procession of the three kings), held on Jan. 6th.

In the Mugello area there are Christmas markets on the weekends throughout the month of December: Marradi, Barberino di Mugello, Dicomano and Palazzuolo sul Senio – where there is also an event called the 1000 Cribs of Pallazuolo which is obviously dedicated to the most beautiful nativity scenes.

Arezzo and the Casentino area will also host events throughout the holiday season. 

Siena’s Medieval Market in Piazza del Campo will be held on December 15th  and 16th
Although it is not a traditional Christmas market, there will be over 160 stands with typical regional foods and artisan crafts. In addition, the historic atmosphere will be re-enacted by street performers and artists. There will also be guided tours available to discover the city as it was in the Middle Ages.

In Chianti there will be various Christmas markets: Greve in Chianti: Dec. 8-9
Barberino Val d’Elsa: Dec. 8, 9 and 23
Mercatale: Dec. 15-16
In the historic center of Casole d’Elsa a there will be a live re-enactment of the nativity with over 250 participants on Dec. 26, 29 and 30 and on Sunday Jan. 6.

If you are in the area of Pisa, the city’s Christmas market runs from Nov. 24 to Dec. 24, with over 55 exhibitors. San Miniato, the town of the White Truffle, has one of Tuscany’s most beautiful crèches from Dec. 7 to Jan. 3rd in the church of San Giovanni Battista di Cigoli.

The city of Lucca also has a medieval Christmas market from Dec. 6-9. 

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