In Pavia this weekend there was a 2-day “preview” of the Christmas market up in Trentino Alto Adige (a region in the north of Italy, bordering with Austria). You may ask yourself, what is a Christmas market, and why are they having it so early?
First, since Italians don’t have Thanksgiving like we do, and no other major holiday between there and now, all the stores are packed with Christmas things. When we went to the mini-mall near our house on November 6th, there were wall-to-wall Christmas decorations, gifts, and candies.
So, these Christmas markets are more popular in Northern Italy (though last year in Rome at Re di Roma and Piazza di Navona there were also little ones) and most popular in Austria and Germany, where I believe they originated. In fact, a lot of the products available (even in the Italian markets) reflect this influence, including sausages, schnitzel, pastries, etc. Also very popular is “vin brule,” also known as mulled, spiced wine. I have tasted it several times in Italy, but yesterday in Pavia it almost knocked me on my butt – I think it was homebrewed and 40% alcohol. It is usually served hot, which seems like a strange thing to drink wine hot, but it really goes down easy if it’s cold.
The “traditional” market has little wooden houses that look like this, but I have to say in Naples, no dares tell them what to do – they have a Christmas market that stretches and winds for miles through the little back streets, full of presepi or nativity scenes, made from bark and other biological parts. Some can get really complicated (and expensive!).
Notably missing from all of the markets, in my opinion, are the wonderful candy canes and hot apple cider (though I guess you could let the kids sip at your Vin Brule).
A really big Christmas market can look like this:
I’m interested to see how Milan gets lit up at Christmas – Rome did it well by putting a big Christmas tree in the middle of Piazza Venezia. There were so many lights and sound that you didn’t even notice the big holes in the tree’s branches.
For those of you who want more information on Christmas markets, I picked up a few flyers yesterday…. The Trentino market site for three different markets – Trento, Arco, and Levico. The market at Levico Terme (near Trento) is from Nov. 26-Jan. 7. Info in Italian. People coming from Milan should look at the EC Milano-Brescia that stops in Trento.