The Joy of Natale: Laura La Monaca’s Christmas Traditions

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Every person has their own Christmas rituals – personal and communal traditions that shape the festive holidays, from favourite foods and exchanging gifts to celebrations with family and friends. It’s fitting then that some of our favourite creatives in Italy, a country full of heritage, have festive traditions that are as unique and charming as the country they inhabit.

Laura La Monaca is an example – a talented photographer and food stylist who creates stunning images that capture the beauty of Italy’s culture, food, landscape and people. We caught up Laura to discuss her Christmas traditions, from her favourite festive foods to the excitement of la vigilia.

Are there any special foods you eat on specific days around Christmas?

An Italian tradition from the North to the South is having Panettone, a sweet bread loaf originally from Milan, or Pandoro, a sweet yeast bread from Verona covered with powdered sugar.

I’m from Sicily and when I was a kid we would spend that time of the year at my grandma’s house in Palermo. As soon as we arrived she had panino con la mortadella ready for me and my mom, and then we would all start cooking together. My favourite dish was her mushroom soup, the starter of our Christmas Eve dinner.

Now that I live in Milan I mostly spend those days here with friends. A new entry in my food tradition now is mussels cooked with spices and cloves. I made them by mistake one night during summer, adding cloves instead of pepperoncino – they tasted perfect for winter and so I added it to my special collection of Christmas foods.

Do you decorate your home?

I usually get a small tree, flowers and Christmas decorations, mostly from my local flower shop. 

Are there any days around Christmas that are particularly important for you?

December 24th was the day we would celebrate Christmas as a family tradition. The family got reunited and we had aperitivo followed by dinner, then waited until midnight to start unpacking the gifts. In Northern Italy, they have Christmas markets, similar to the ones in German-speaking countries.

What is your schedule on Christmas day – do you have any traditions?

Everywhere in Italy has the same main tradition which is to have tortellini for lunch on Christmas day.  After spending the day with family and friends we usually go out for a movie.

What do you drink on Christmas day?

I usually drink prosecco – even if I’m really more of a beer lover – and Christmas tea in the afternoon. In some areas of Italy, including Milan, they drink and make mulled wine around Christmas and in winter.