Venezuelan Christmas in Italy

Christmas traditions… I’m sure we all have them. Whether it is quite a common thing in your religious practice or culture, something special just for family and friends or your own personal quirks, we all have something that makes us get in the mood for the special time of year. For me it has often been going to a work Christmas party (even gate crashing a Christmas lunch or dinner to see previous colleagues), seeing special groups of friends for a ‘mini Christmas’ and taking out my mini artificial tabletop Christmas tree and decorating it with the handmade decorations I have collected or been gifted with over the years (and likely also purchased in the run up to Christmas too!).

This time for 2016, having been living in Italy and working for a family, my work Christmas party ritual wasn’t going to happen. Instead, I was invited to join Carlos and his Venezuelan friends for a Venezuelan Christmas tradition on the 10th and 11th December. They eat something special for Christmas (hallacas – not pronounced how you would think unless you can read Spanish!) which takes some time to prepare and is prepared by everyone together, each taking responsibility for a certain task. This is very different to our family Christmas dinner, with my Mum generally doing most of the cooking and preparation, although over the last few years has had some assistance from willing individuals.

This gathering was at the home of Yenny and Samuel in Bergamo, north of Italy, where there was plenty of room for guests to stay over. It was a big gathering but I knew most of the guests from previous events. Preparing the hallacas was a huge team effort! In the basement of their house, it was like a factory with workers at their stations and a production line! Ingredients include: cornflour dough, pork, chicken, beef, olives, peppers, onion, capers, raisins, pancetta and egg all wrapped and tied inside a banana leaf.

Here are the banana leaves being prepared over the hob flame…Production line start…

They are then boiled for a few hours before they are ready to be eaten.

There was also a filled bread made into a large roll and sliced called pan de jamon containing ham, pancetta, olives, raisins and capers:The tree was flamboyantly decorated and collectively produced presents were given too…The children played, adults ate and drank and enjoyed a good sociable gathering of an essentially extended family.

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