Even though it is still November, Christmas in Valdichiana Senese has already come. In Montepulciano, the decorated tree has already taken its place, the Christmas markets started last weekend, and the Castle of Santa Claus has opened its doors. Chianciano Terme has got the Christmas ball rolling at the beginning of November, combining the Christmas festival with other events, such as the “World of Fairytales”, and the “House of Masha and the Bear”. Besides, Sarteano is getting ready to become the point of reference for nativities with the event “Il Paese dei Presepi” (from December 8, to January 6). Markets and celebrations in honor of the best holiday of the year are scheduled every weekend throughout the Valdichiana Senese. On this, we will keep you up to date.
However, Christmas is not just markets, especially in Valdichiana. Unfortunately, many traditions of the past have been lost, but some are still safe, at least in the local memory. Many people (perhaps, not the youngest ones) remember the tradition of the “befano“, namely, a typical Tuscan prank pulled on the kingpins of the village. The “befano” consisted of a puppet made of straw and rags, hung in the village as a taunt, what usually meant that the targeted character had some love troubles: in short, the “befano” was pulled on the spinsters and bachelors.
On the other hand, even older is the tradition of the “ceppo di Natale” [Christmas’ Log], namely, a large piece of wood burned in the fireplace from Christmas Eve up to Epiphany. Sometimes, the log magically turned into a person, and asked the children whether they had behaved well. Gifts, sweets, or coal were delivered right from this personified log.
Unfortunately, over time, the standardization of the Christmas party has cleared up many of the peasant stories of the past, leaving space for the well-known characters of Santa Claus & Co. Yet, in a mainly rural area, some trace of typicality still remains untouched.
So, how is Christmas in the villages of Valdichiana? First of all, there is the Christmas concert of the local choir. In each parish of each village, starting from the day of the Immaculate Conception, the priest reveals to the people the musical advances of his brave singers. Then, around December 12 – 15, it is time for Christmas pageants and theatrical performances by the local companies. Missing one of these appointments means being ostracized up to the Epiphany.
One of the biggest troubles to be solved every Christmas is: where shall we eat? Bring everyone together is not easy, but in the end, the solution is always the same: you eat at Grandma’s, with the following Christmas menu: ham, pork loin and capocollo, crostini soaked in the broth of tortellini and topped with chicken livers sauce, pici with sauce, roast beef, chianina steak, 8 side dishes, panforte, ricciarelli, cantucci and Vinsanto, pandoro and panettone.
Like it or not, lunch lasts from 1 pm to 7 pm, which is notoriously cocktail hour. And in every village of Valdichiana Senese, on Christmas Eve, the cocktail is all together; who misses it, is lost (or has fallen into a deep sleep on the couch in front of the TV, turned on The Cave of the Golden Rose).
After Christmas, the only trouble is just to figure out what to do at New Year’s Eve. And, if on Christmas one had managed to put aside some nice money generously donated by grandparents and uncles, with New Year’s Eve, the loot piled up may fall into the hands of an insidious, and yet well-rooted, tradition, which is absolutely not to be missed: the “bestia” (an Italian card game of the Rams group, similar to Briscola and Tressette)!
Legend has it that, one year, someone even bet his wife.
But this is a whole other story.