Article first published as A Traditional Italian Family Christmas on Technorati.
When I was a child, Christmas was without a doubt the biggest event of the year. Even though I come from Switzerland and spent a good part of my life in this country, the influence of my Italian Grandmother, a Piedmont native, won over. Our Christmas celebrations, year after year, had a definite Italian shine to them.
First of all, there was none of this splitting the family at Christmas or gathering in different houses. The whole family met in my Grandmother's home for three days in a row. Extra tables and chairs were brought from our neighbouring houses, allowing everybody to sit and eat comfortably. The white table clothes and napkins came out of their cupboard, and the three long tables were prettily decorated. Numerous presents were carefully piled under the colourful Christmas tree so that the crib would not be disturbed. Us children had real trouble going to sleep the night before when our favourite day was so close.
On Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day, serious action happened in the kitchen under my Grandma's orders. New recipes were tried every year on Christmas Eve, and I cannot recall one time when we thought one of the dishes was only average. The food was always delicious. We would start the festivities by some of the adults going to the early Christmas mass with the children, then come home and unwrap the presents while enjoying the aperitif. There was many a scream of delight as we discovered one of the toys we had so wished for. Once the excitement had died down a bit, it was time to eat and enjoy the warm family atmosphere. After the feast, the adults who had stayed home earlier would then go to the midnight mass, while the children collapsed into bed, exhausted.
Christmas Day saw the slow roasting of a massive turkey. The bird would be stuffed with a filling featuring chestnuts and the aroma made you feel hungry well before it was time for lunch. Sometimes black truffles would also be used, and I have this distinct image of incredibly thin mushroom slices being inserted in cuts in the turkey. Once out of the oven, the delicate truffle taste had perfumed the meat exquisitely.
Of course there was always far too much food prepared over these two days, which is why it became the tradition to all meet again on Boxing Day. Leftovers would then be eaten in a convivial manner. When there was not that much turkey left, the meat would be used to make a Bolognese sauce and homemade gnocchi then featured on the menu.
It has been a while since these childhood Christmases, but still today I cannot eat gnocchi without thinking about the lovely times we had.