Greetings! It is December and we are at the happiest and holiest of seasons. As a world we acknowledge the month and celebrate it in many different ways. For our family December will always be Christmas as in Merry Christmas.
Christmas comes early to our house. Traditions run deep and holiday preparations begin early. But even so, all through the month new Christmas activities just seem to joyously pile up like softly falling snow; it just piles up soundlessly until we can’t see beyond tomorrow. But to me that is a gift. I love all the hustle and bustle, the comings and goings of our family. There will be time enough in January to enjoy a little peace and quiet.
Yes, it’s a busy month, so let’s get started!
The month of December for Italians is filled with many holidays and reasons to celebrate. It begins with:
December 1st – Feast of San Ansano*
December 8th – Feast of the Immaculate Conception
December 13th – Feast of St. Lucy
December 24th – Christmas Eve (Vigilia di Natale)
December 25th – Christmas Day (Il Giorno di Natale)
December 26th – Feast of San Stefano (Boxing Day for some)
December 31st – New Year’s Eve – (Vigilia di Cappodano)
And why end here when we can stretch celebrating into January!
January 1st – New Year’s Day – Il Cappodano
January 6th – Feast of the Ephinany and La Befana Day
And with each celebration comes the gathering around a bountiful table to indulge in a festive meal, enjoy a glass of wine a memorable dessert and a toast with Prosecco or a lovely home-made Vin Santo!
Growing up, in a New York City apartment, our family celebrated a traditional Christmas, but being Italian we also observed a few ethnic customs during the month. On December 13th, my Little Nonna made me a wheat cereal in honor of Santa Lucia, my given confirmation name to honor my Father’s Nonna. On Christmas Eve, we had a special fish dinner to observe the Catholic tradition of abstinence from meat. My Father prepared that meal and, fortunately it was passed down to my husband, so we are enjoying it still, every Christmas Eve. We did have a real live Christmas tree with a make-shift manger placed beneath and we did wait for Santa Clause. No chimney, but stockings were hung anywhere a knob could be found. Church activities took prominence, were never debated and always exciting with the glorious Christmas carols. On Christmas Day we gathered around our table for a dinner shared with relatives. The essence of the day was family, Little Jesus and food!
Not too much has changed in our house. Christmas is anticipated and welcomed with a passion. And it all starts on December 1st.
- 1 lb ricotta – whole milk, drained
- 2 egg yolks – beaten
- 4 oz butter – melted and cooled
- 1 tb salt – or slightly more to taste
- ½ cup parmesan cheese freshly grated
- pinch of pepper
- freshly ground pinch of nutmeg
- 1 ½ cups flour – or a little more as needed
- Place the drained Ricotta in a bowl and stir in the butter, just to blend.
- Then add all the remining ingredients, with the exception, of the flour.
- When all is mixed in and well combined, add the flour a little at a time until you have a soft but manageable dough. If not, add flour a little at a time until you are satisfied.
- On a floured board, with floured hands, roll out pieces of the dough into long narrow logs about 12-inches long and a little thinner than a regular hot-dog.
- When all the logs are made, cut into 1 ½ -inch pieces, make an indentation into each piece and roll off the tines on the back of a dinner fork.
- Press lightly but enough so that you see the indentations. Let rest on a floured cloth or board until ready to cook.
- Bring 5 quarts of salted water to a rapid boil and carefully slide the gnocchi in.
- Cook for about 5 minutes or until they rise to the top.
- Taste one for doneness and then lift them out carefully with a slotted spoon, shaking them a little to release the water and place in a large bowl with a small amount of your heated sauce or just serve with butter and freshly grated cheese.
* ”Per Sant Ansano, uno sotto e uno in mano” – or for Saint Ansano, one below the skirt and one in the hand. With obvious innuendo and giggles, but this is referring to the heating pads old ladies used during the cold season. A Sienese saying and a little December humor!