The magic of Christmas in Western Sicily: where to go and what to see
The atmosphere of a magical period, made of lights, flavours and religious traditions: Christmas in Western Sicily is an experience to be lived at least once in a lifetime!
Spending the Christmas holidays in Western Sicily allows you to immerse yourself in evocative places and witness several historical and religious traditions that are heartfelt and rooted in the territory.
Get ready to discover a land far from the idea of Sicily as a purely summer tourist destination. A land made up of medieval villages, Christmas markets, shows and events that focus on the warmth and magic of Christmas.
The traditions of Christmas in Sicily: all the curiosities
When we think of Christmas in Sicily, the image that immediately comes to mind is Giovanni Verga’s famous passage in his novel “I Malavoglia”, in which:
“The entire town would dress up; the images of the saints were adorned in every house with branches and oranges, and the children crowded behind the bagpipe that went to play in front of the chapels with the lights, next to the doorsteps”.
Somehow, and with all due differences, this festive atmosphere involving entire communities is still present in Sicily.
Sicily has a pastoral tradition that is still deeply felt, particularly in the inland towns where there are many Christmas celebrations that involve ancient peasant customs.
The Christmas novenas are typical Christmas songs of the island: the faithful sing prayers and songs for nine days preceding Christmas Eve and are often accompanied by the “zampognari”, players of an instrument that is similar to a bagpipe, which is typical of Southern Italy. Every year at Christmas, in the charming medieval village of Erice, one can attend the novenas played by the zampognari, also called “ciaramiddari”.
Another typical Sicilian Christmas tradition is to decorate sacred images with oranges and citrus tree fronds; oranges, in addition to being one of the symbols of Sicily, are also a typical Christmas fruit. In the past, farmers, who were unable to afford decorations, used everyday objects at their disposal to create a festive atmosphere; oranges and lemons, with their bright colours in contrast to green leaves, are very suitable for this purpose.
Christmas in Sicily means family. It is the time of year when families come together and many Sicilians who live abroad return home for the holidays. Families gather around tables set with innumerable delicacies and spend the evenings playing typical festive games, often with Sicilian playing cards, such as “sette e mezzo”, “piatto” or “cucù”.
During Christmas, Sicilian families eat classic dishes, in which every celebration has a typical dish. With regard to the eve of the holidays, on December 7th, 24th and 31st, traditionally “focaccia” or other leavened foods are eaten. As for the actual festive lunch, especially on Christmas day, there are an infinite number of typical dishes such as “falsomagro”, a roll of meat stuffed with eggs and cold cuts, or a wide variety of oven-cooked timballi pasta.
The typical Sicilian cuisine also abounds in Christmas sweets: from the “torrone” (nougats), made with almonds, to the fig biscuits, called “buccellati” in the area of Trapani, stuffed with walnuts and dried figs; from the “pasta di Martorana” (coloured sweets made with almond flour) to the “cassata”; all these traditional cakes are united by a burst of colours, in line with the festive atmosphere.
The living nativity scene in Custonaci
The village of Custonaci, near Trapani, is one of those places where the ancient Christmas traditions continue to be kept alive and attract hundreds of tourists every year from all over Italy.
The Living Nativity Scene that is set up every year in the Mangiapane Grotto on the slopes of Monte Cofano is a tradition that is being held for almost forty years now, with the participation of over 160 extras who stage ancient peasant and artisanal uses, combining them with the scenes of the Nativity. This cultural event has been recognized as an intangible heritage of Sicily and every year involves numerous guests, musicians, singers and actors who make this an unforgettable event.
Another Custonaci Christmas tradition is that of Christmas bread which is made by hand by the Custonaci ovens in countless articulated shapes and then decorated with anise seeds. This holiday bread, with its particular shapes reminiscent of wreaths and flowers, serves to mark the time of work with respect to the time of festivities and to celebrate them in a unique manner.
Christmas holiday in Western Sicily: where to go and what to see
If you plan to travel during the holidays, to spend a different Christmas with your family, then Western Sicily is the ideal place: the warm welcome and the special festive climate will not make you regret Christmas and New Year’s Eve dinners.
During the Christmas period there are many events that are organized throughout Western Sicily, including live nativity scenes, markets and shows; from December 8 to January 6 you will have a wide range of options to choose from.
So here is a list of all the events in December that cannot be missed, for your unique holiday amidst faith and food and wine.
All events listed may be subject to change: please check the official websites of the relevant districts.
- Ericènatale – The village of the nativity scenes: during the Christmas season, the streets and squares of Erice come alive with many Christmas-related activities: markets, concerts, theatrical performances, exhibitions and nativity scenes. A unique opportunity to spend the holidays in a fairy-tale landscape.
- The Bible in the Park: Valderice prepares to dive into the past, immersing visitors between the Old and New Testaments.
- Mediterranean Christmas: the traditional Christmas markets are the backdrop to festivities rich in art and culture; in this way, Trapani is ready to amaze visitors with numerous surprises.
- Christmas in Gibellina: whether it be the songs or the sound of the “zampogna” (bagpipe), whether it be the markets or excursions, this Christmas reserves gifts for all tastes!
- Christmas under the Tree: a programme in Mazara del Vallo that is full of events, all in the name of culture, conviviality and inclusion.
- The Feast of Saint Lucy in Paceco is dedicated to the Cuccìa, a typical dessert made with wheat and ricotta cheese.
- The Feast of St. Nicholas: a solemn procession through the streets of the medieval village is dedicated to the patron saint of Salemi, ending with the lights and colours of fireworks.
Western Sicily in December is decorated in a unique atmosphere and has always welcomed evocative events related to Christmas, awakening warm scents and traditions. Worth highlighting among these are:
- The King’s Hut (La Capanna del Re), a special living nativity scene that takes place in the streets of the village of Salemi, in which the characters from the nativity scene are brought to life alongside the ancient trades preserved by local craftsmen.
- The Nativity Scene in Custonaci, a living nativity scene held inside the Mangiapane Grotto which, thanks to its charm, has become one of the best known in the entire region.
In short, travelling in Western Sicily in December means not only discovering charming places, but above all immersing yourself in atmospheres that are definitely unique in the world!