Since times immemorial, the Feast of Santa Lucia marks the start of winter in Venice: It’s the day when we “finally recall it’s really getting so festive in town”, as we approach solstizio d’inverno, winter solstice on 22-23 December. During this quiet time, candles are lit at home and a break is taken for a couple of weeks, until early February. Like Venice is sleeping ..
Doge Enrico Dandolo, according to Legend, had the body of Santa Lucia brought from Constantinople to Venice in 1204, to an ancient church on the Grand Canal, built in honor of the Saint, even before she arived in Venice, around the year 1000 AD.
Soon, 13 December became her feast introduced in the Lagoon with the purpose of discouraging the ancient Roman rites celebrating the longest nights of the year with bonfires between 13 and 23 December, and then again, before and after New Year’s Day.
This approach didn’t work in the Levantine and independent culture that is Venice, so bonfires are still around to celebrate Capodanno – the beginning of the New Year and the day on which we celebrate the ancient Venetian Christmas, L’Epifania, on 6-7 January. And yes, we’ve got these festive days in common with the countries in the Levant and Russia.
Important for you to know if you are in Venice now! Winter solstice means that the sun comes out only after 9 am and sets before 4 pm. These short and dark days interfere with the tide cycles and winter full moon, so the acqua alta we’re currently witnessing doesn’t come unexpected. These tidal effects are more pronouced 8 days before and after full moon, and always most accentuated during winter solstice.
For the next couple of weeks, except for a few sunny spells, we expect humid and cold weather which may turn freezing in the morning. Only at noon does the fog clear up a bit, like here on Strada Nova.
As you can see in the images, Venice looks clean and dry:
Cleaning up after the floods in most public spaces is almost done, and a visitor knowing nothing about the severe floods of 12-17 November wouldn’t suspect anything. Outwardly. Of course, there’s work going on behind the scenes, like painting, changing floors, etc. in many buildings, but hotels have done fairly much during the past couple of weeks.
Thankfully, Venice is getting to grips with the flood crisis at large. The damaged furniture and electric appliances are being replaced and many bakeries are back at work.
Outside, there are the Christmas trees on the streets and in the illuminated hotel lobbies and bars, like they always are, and people are doing their shopping on “just another Saturday before Christmas” on Strada Nova. Inside, the truth is that it will take a little longer (more of that in a post soon).
Of course, this Christmas makes us more thoughtful and in particular, connect with ancient festive and solstice traditions: Lina recalls the recipes eaten in the Lagoon until 50 years ago and looks forward to preparing them for her birthday!
Festeggiando una giornata buia: On December evenings, my grandmother’s generation used to eat a sweet cake made from almond flour, figs, dried plums, apples and candied oranges called torta dolse de Santa Lucia, healthy ingredients that work to keep you warm in the Venetian humidity: It’s the season of kaki and quinces, oranges and bergamot, and dried fruit flavored with grappa and cherry liquor.
On December nights, Venetian families of the past used to lay the table for a quiet candlelight dinner, listening to the silence in front of the fireplace and eating their cakes warm with a special fig jam, spicy and enriched with cinnamon and star anise.
13 December and the winter solstice weekend is when we start baking Christmas cookies in Venice! If you’d like to introduce Venetian flavors to your house this season, take a look at the Venetian Christmas Package filled with our personal tips for you to enjoy the season here in Venice, and its culinary treats. Discover what pastry stores and bakeries offer now, and all the recipes transporting Venetian Christmas scents and flavors! Click here to access it!
Here’s the Christmas tree market in front of Chiesa San Felice on Strada Nova. It used to be in front of Chiesa della Maddalena, not far from here, the only church with a completely round layout and a few more secrets to explore .. From there, enter a maze of pictoresque calli leading towards the Grand Canal, with unexpected views that belong only to you, as you will be quite alone here in December.
It’s lovely to see the odd fir branch behind white lace curtains decorated with red ribbons, a trace of the real feast which is quiet here in Venice, with people baking pan spezià honey cookies (even better with orange blossom honey!) and dark mint-cinnamon chocolates (family recipes from our Christmas in Venice Package)
And then, there’s the lively part of Christmas, in the Mercerie which become crowded in the early evening. People stop at the cafes for their caffé espresso and a glass of freshly pressed orange juice (so delicious!), and they are ready to brave the humid winter night.
In any case, get a taste of those opulent Christmases long past in the Fondaco dei Tedeschi. Then return to the Piazza and learn about culinary secrets and cookie recipes, and to admire le luminarie, the Christmas lights!
Until the 17th century, Venice used to be illuminated with candle lights in December during the merchant fairs, the largest ones in Europe for more than 700 years, and the image above just unveils a taste of it.