Buona sera a tutti! I hope that you are all well and enjoying the run up to the Christmas festivities! In Sicily, preparations are well underway for the traditional Nativity scenes that appear across the island in the month of December.
One city in particular that attracts thousands of visitors each year to its Nativity displays is Caltagirone. This Baroque town in the province of Catania has long been famous for its beautiful pottery, in particular its ceramics and terracotta, and actually takes its name from the Arabic words for 'Hill of Vases'. The city's main landmark is the staircase of Santa Maria del Monte which was built in 1608 in the old section of the town. Each of the staircase's 142 steps is adorned with different hand-decorated ceramics using varying styles and figures from the town's ancient tradition of pottery making. To celebrate Caltagirone's Patron Saint 'San Giacomo', or St. James, on the 25th July the steps are lined with terracotta oil lamps which are lit simultaneously by hundreds of locals creating a spectacular effect.
For the month of December the town comes alive with beautiful Nativity scenes made entirely of terracotta which are displayed throughout Caltagirone. Some residents even open their homes to show their own intricate displays. One fine example of a Nativity scene is 'Il Presepe Animato in Terracotta' which can be found in the Church of Santa Maria del Carmine. This Nativity display features moving figures and extends over 80 square metres - the largest in Italy. On the 25th and 26th December and the 6th January there will be a 'live' Nativity scene in the town's historic centre featuring more than 200 local residents dressed in costume.
Throughout the month of December there will be Christmas markets and processions in the town such as that on the 'Festa dell'Immacolata' on the 8th December. For the two days prior to this feast day there is a delicious aroma throughout the town as bakeries sell the traditional 'muffulette' - a local bread made with fennel seeds.
Have a wonderful Christmas everyone - Buon Natale! I hope that all of you across the world are beginning to feel the festive spirit. Don't forget to use our recipe for Sicilian Christmas Cookies, or 'Mastazzoli' at - http://sicilianconnections.blogspot.co.uk/2011/12/tis-season-of-sicilian-christmas.html.
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