December food festivals and fun in Salento
It’s not long ’til Christmas, the heart of our winter festivities, so now’s the right time to let you know about all the food festivals and celebrations that make Salento buzz with excitement in the month of December. Traditionally, our Christmas festivities start on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception on 8th December.
Our little villages are all-a-glitter with lights, with the aroma of traditional cakes wafting through their ancient streets, and the sound of music everywhere delighting visitors as well as the locals. The party atmosphere warms the hearts of adults and little ones alike.
Popular traditions mix harmoniously with ancient pagan beliefs, faith combining with a love of great food. This is what holidays in Salento are all about.
The best loved festivities that happen before Christmas itself arrives are perhaps those of Saint Lucy, on 13th December. The saint is greatly loved by local people and Italians generally. Patron saint of eyesight and symbol of light and prosperity, she is often celebrated with bonfires – just the thing for warming everyone up on what is usually quite a cold winter night.
Devout catholics and pilgrims flood to our basilica of Santa Maria di Leuca, all coming here to participate in the Christmas festivities, just a step away from the splendid sea. In Morciano di Leuca the party’s already going full swing in the morning, when you can walk around stalls selling all sorts of sweets and Christmas gift ideas created by skilled Salento artisans. There are lots of games and sideshows, too, and much more. In the evening there’s a procession with bands of musicians before a marvellous fireworks display to round the evening off with a bang.
In honour of the saint, Tricase hosts a large fair which attracts thousands of people every year.
As Christmas itself approaches, the atmosphere intensifies with even more festivals and parties.
Food-wise, perhaps our favourite and best-known Christmas delicacy is ‘pittule’. These delicious cakes are little balls of leavened flour mixed with a little water which are then fried, before getting covered with sugar or honey or chocolate. Simple but skilfully made. Magical! A number of towns hold entire festivals centred around this fantastic traditional food. The historic centres of Cutrofiano, Vernole and Tiggiano and many other places, too, come alive with everyone enjoying these delicious little cakes, washed down with a glass of new wine from local Salento vineyards.
Another food festival is the Bread Festival held in Spongano. On this occasion, on 22nd December, the local people burn baskets of palm leaves, remembering how Saint Victoria miraculously protected the local harvest during a terrible storm.
From 23rd December the real Christmas markets begin, with the best of ‘Made in Salento’ products on sale, while beautiful, ‘live’ nativity plays are acted out in many of our historic town centres. But we’ll tell you more about those in another post. Keep following us! We look forward to seeing you at Hotel Montiró!