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Etna at Christmas is a show like few others in the world. You won’t always find snow there, because it often arrives in January, but even without the skiing season, experiencing the end-of-year celebrations on this volcano is exciting. There are many traditions that intertwine with the excursions and which allow you to get to know and fully experience the typical atmosphere of the place. The most evocative locations at Christmas are certainly Zafferana Etnea, Milo, Trecastagni, Bronte and Linguaglossa. But even going down to the sea you will find events and customs that are worth knowing. Here are at least five things to know about Etna Christmas that maybe not everyone knows.

Etna Christmas time02Bonfires on Christmas Eve

In small and large towns, at the foot of the volcano, Christmas still combines with ancient peasant traditions. The people wait for the feast by lighting large bonfires on Christmas Eve, which will then burn until midday on December 25th. Bonfires (called “zuccu”, from the Arabic SUQ meaning log) indicate the light of Christ that comes, for the Church. But they have their roots in an ancient pagan ritual which thus celebrated the winter solstice.

The Nativity Crib

The Nativity Crib is still very important in Sicily, much more than elsewhere in Italy. Every Etna village in this period shows off handcrafted nativity scenes (in terracotta, wood, plaster, fabric…) or living nativity scenes staged by the people of the parishes. Some nativity scenes are set up in very special locations: for example on boats, in Aci Trezza, or inside a lava cave (seventeenth-century nativity scene in Acireale). In private homes some people still use to decorate the nativity scene with tangerines and lemons.

The delicacies of Etna for Christmas

The inhabitants of Etna love to eat well during Christmas time. The typical dish here is the Scacciata (which we will discuss in more detail in future articles). It is often alternated with “pani cunzatu”, a homemade bread filled with tomatoes, olives and cheese. Of course, there is no shortage of sweets, especially cannoli, a seasonal specialty. But it’s the nougats – glazed with white or black chocolate – and the caramelized almonds that make the party a real party.

Christmas carols

If you find yourself on Etna at Christmas, stop and listen to the many choirs that perform during this period. Many concerts take place inside the churches, others around the nativity scenes or even in the squares if the weather permits. In some mountain villages you can still see bagpipers, dressed in sheepskins, enlivening the atmosphere of the festival by playing in the streets. Sometimes they sing songs with texts taken from the (unofficial) Apocryphal Gospels, thus spreading completely original stories about the Child Jesus.

Christmas “excursions”

Etna Christmas is very often characterized by pleasant temperatures. It is not uncommon, especially during the day, to have 15 or sometimes even 20 degrees Celsius. This allows you to organize walks, excursions, picnics on the volcano so to dispose of the previous evening’s dinners. Or just to consume leftovers in an original and fun way, surrounded by nature. Even in the middle of winter. And if you’re lucky, during one of these post-Christmas excursions, you could witness an eruption of Etna which – apparently! – loves to erupt very often during Holiday Season. (photos by G Musumeci)

Autore: Grazia Musumeci

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