venerdì 6 dicembre 2013

Christmas Time in Florence

by Louisa Loring

Is it the sound of music, the sweet smells or the bright, colorful lights that let you know Christmas has arrived in Florence? It’s not only these things but much more as Florence opens its city walls to the twelve days of Christmas by welcoming sweet treats and German markets to accompany the twelve meter high center piece, the Christmas tree in Piazza del Duomo. 

It is always exciting to be in a city around Christmas time and watch the masses pass through crowded streets, arms overloaded with shopping bags, filled with music and store front decorations but especially in Florence as it is chalk full of activities and beauty around every corner. Whether it is the smell of freshly roasted chestnuts, which you can buy from street vendors or the brisk breeze nipping at your nose, it is clear the season has come.  What makes Florence so wonderful in this season is how well the city adapts.

To kick off the Christmas season, Florence lights up on Sunday, December 8th after sunset.  It is a magical evening in which all the Christmas decorations and lights are finally illuminated and the city is filled with color and bright lights.  Piazza del Duomo is the ideal spot to see the illumination because it is really the Christmas tree, which is lit for the first time that you want to see.  From there, you can walk down to Piazza della Signoria or Piazza della Repubblica, all avenues glittering with blue and white lights. 

Follow the lights and smells down to Santa Croce where the piazza is magnificently transformed into a German Christmas market (Mercatino Tedesco di Natale) with vendors selling various crafts, gifts and traditional seasonal food.  Sip on a cup of mulled wine or enjoy a slice of traditional strudel while you shop around and soak it all in.

This is not the only market in Florence around Christmas to keep you busy.  You can find all kinds of artisans selling their hand made crafts at le Murate until the 24th of December.  If you are looking for something a little bigger, check out Florence Noel at Parterre, near Piazza della Libertà where you can go ice skating and continue shopping.  Take advantage of the seasonal opening weekend by visiting Santa Clause at Palazzo Corsini from the 6th to the 8th.  Artisans will be selling their goods and donating a part of their profits to the Fondazione Italiana di Leniterapia Onlus.  In case you didn’t get all your shopping done or get your fill of markets, there is always the Fierucola dell’Immacolata on Saturday the 7th and Sunday the 8th at Piazza S.S. Annunziata.  To get out of the city and indulged in a stunning city view, Fiesole is the perfect spot.  With fewer crowds and a breath of fresh air, Piazza Mino hosts the Merry Christmas Market on the 15th.

To warm up after all this shopping, stop off at the Caffe Rivoire in Piazza della Signoria or Caffè Gilli in Piazza della Ruppublica for a piping cup of hot chocolate (cioccolato caldo).  It’s more than just a warm cup but rather, a thick, almost pudding like beverage made from pure melted chocolate. There is no better place to splurge!  Be sure to take home a panettone, a traditional Christmas bread from Milan, which is wonderful as an afternoon ‘Merenda’ as the Italians say for snack or for breakfast with a strong coffee or cappuccino.  This brioche bread (egg based) with sweet morals baked inside can be brought from various cafes and specialty shops around town. 

For something a little different, visit Palazzo Strozzi on either December 8th or 12th where you can trim the palace tree and take part in various activities.  For a change of pace, there will be folk music on the 12th and nothing says Christmas like the sound of music.  To hear more traditional holiday tunes, there are a variety of free concerts in churches during the later afternoons and evenings.  It only takes an open ear to track down the many places from which the hymns sound.  St. Mark’s English Church in Via Maggio offers concerts in English by the Orpheus Ensemble on Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays each week.   While in the churches, check out the various Nativity scenes that each church displays.  And don’t miss the largest of all in Piazza del Duomo. For those who want to get the full experience and practice their Italian and Latin, take part in the midnight Mass on Christmas Eve at the Duomo.  Entrance is based on a first-come, first-served basis so be sure to get there early! For English services, St. Mark’s and St. James both hold masses at 11.00 p.m.

But it doesn’t end here.  In Italy, Christmas lasts until the 6th of January, through Epiphany.  To bring the holiday season to a close, make your way to the city center to see the Parade of the Three Kings of the Orient at 2:30 p.m. that runs from Piazza Pitti all the way to the Duomo.  

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