Tuscany and its rural Christmas traditions

We’ve just left the north of Italy and passing over the Appennini we land on the first of the central Italian regions. We are in Tuscany.

Tuscany is a region famous for its beautiful towns and architecture, art, culture, food and wine. But it has also a wonderful countryside, with gentle and harmonious panoramas. And it is especially during Christmas time that Tuscany dusts off its old rural traditions. Traditions are not kept alive only in a superficial way, but they are felt deeply by the local population.

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On Christmas Eve the head of household lights up a big olive or oak root in the fireplace. Tradition wants that as long as the Yule log continues to burn, the door remains open. A good bowl of soup, followed by the typical cantuccini and brigidini, washed down with a glass of new wine are offered to anyone who comes in.

In Tuscany many celebrations are linked to Yule log ritual.

In Monteriggioni on the Via Francigena, close to Siena, a long torchlight procession of four kilometers illuminates the night. It reminds of the comet that more than two thousand years ago led the Magi and the shepherds to the manger of baby Jesus.

But the event that mainly recall the ancient tradition of the log takes place in Minucciano in the area of Garfagnana. Here people build the so-called Natalecci, and they compete with each other in height and size. A tradition deeply felt by all the inhabitants that for generations passed down the secrets and rivalries of stories related to the construction of Nataleccio. Those can reach twenty meters, made of branches and shrubs collected during the cleaning of the undergrowth. The built towers should burn long time without making too much smoke during the Christmas night. In Minucciano the sight of burning Natalecci is indescribable.

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Building a Nataleccio in Minucciano
(Photo Ingarfagnana.it)

In Abbadia San Salvatore the Christmas night is also the Night of Torchlights. The little town fills up with singing carols and the heat of the fire that brings locals and tourists on a fantastic journey through time. It is an ancient tradition that has its roots before the eleventh century, when the villagers and the pilgrims along the Via Francigena used to come to the Abbey for the midnight mass. The fires used to illuminate the road and keep people warm. Today, the fire of the logs is blessed under the arcades of the City and carried in procession through all the streets of the village to feed other bonfires, of course accompanied by mulled wine and carols.

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Night of Torchlights at Abbadia San Salvatore
(Photo www.itacafreelance.it)

Tuscany is also the region of nativity scenes. Every town has the perfect landscape (churches, squares and alleys) to recreate suggestive nativity scenes. There is an itinerary of more than 50 places to visit following a route throughout the region. In Castelfiorentino a crib by bicycle is organized. In Cerreto Guidi there is the longest tridimensional crochet nativity scene. While in Pescia there is the first live nativity scene along river banks…. We don’t have enough space to tell you all of them!

Talking about nativity scenes we should mention the area around Lucca. Historical archives tell that craftsmen capable of shaping figurines in Lucchesia can be traced back to the mid ‘700. Thus following an ancient tradition the craftsmen were able to mould accurately the figurines. They handed down this ability to generation after generations and around the world. There is also a funny story telling that when Christopher Columbus discovered America he found on the beach where he arrived a Lucchese selling nativity figurines.

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Nativity scene in white plaster for the exposition at Quirinale 2015
Made in Coreglia Antelminelli (Lucca)

Another popular tradition in Tuscany following the Christmas day is the Game of Panforte. It is a very old game using one of the most typical Tuscan Christmas cakes, panforte. The game consists in throwing from a certain distance the wrapped cake on a long wooden table. You have to try to reach the border and not let fell the cake. You can play it in many places, but Pienza is where a tournament is organized.

Finally you cannot miss then a visit of Florence. This amazing city spreads a feeling of beauty even more enhanced by the lights and decorations. And on the 6th of December you cannot miss La Cavalcata dei Re Magi. The celebration is a long parade with beautiful costumes of the Medici time that evokes the arrival of the Magi. The procession follows a path to Piazza Duomo where a living crib is held.

We need to leave now! Time is running and we are so looking forward to tell you about the next stop!

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