Yesterday was the 8th of December: the feast of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary, one of the many Italian national day to be spent at home with your family and closest friends. It is the day in which one should decorate the Christmas tree: the day which officially sanctions the beginning of the most beautiful time of the year in which overindulging oneself with food is kind of allowed. This year the 8th of December was a Sunday, so on Saturday I went and bought a big Christmas tree for my grandma’s house and on the 8th, after lunch, me and my cousins decorated it; well I decorated the tree, Marta broke 3 glass ornaments, Anna damaged one lights wire by stepping on it, Rocco scattered every single ornament on the sofa and Luca simply fell off the ladder for trying to place a colorful angel on the top of the tree. But that is normal, that is how should be when you have 6 kids between 3 and 16 years old running around.
Anyway the Christmas-tree-decoration-moment was just the beginning of the celebration of the Immaculate Conception day. Me and some of my friends decided to meet up in the evening to have some food and play board and card games. However this time, before stuffing our stomachs with delicious deli meats and cheeses, we lit the fire or as we say we made LO FOCARO’ DE LA MADONNA – THE BONFIRE FOR THE VIRGIN MARY a regional and very cool tradition of which I will now talk you about. Local lore recounts that in 1291 the house in which the Holy Family lived was miraculously flown from Palestine to Le Marche by four angels just before the final expulsion of the Crusaders from the Holy Land. According to the story the House was first placed in Croatia by the city of Rijeka, the old Fiume, and then transferred on the 10th of December across the Adriatic Sea to near Ancona in Le Marche on an hill shielded by bushes of bay trees; on that place nowadays appears the sanctuary of Loreto whose name in fact stems from the Latin word lauretum meaning bay tree. To commemorate this paradisiac light that the people saw flying in the sky before the angels deposited it and to illuminate the journey of pilgrimages on the night between the 8th and 9th of December every family used to make a big bonfire. As an old saying tells: tutta la campagna se ‘ncennea de focarò in focarò e se ‘ncennea li cori d’un calore che non era solo quello de li fochi. Era lu calore de senti che non ce stai solo tu a pena su ‘sta terra, che soffre e che crede (the countryside was a big bonfire, from fire to fire every heart warms up. It was the warmth of the people that suffer and believe like you).
Blah Blah Blah Blah…anyway after having payed homage to the tradition by lighting up an indoor fire, which was also very helpful in warming up the freezing countryside lodge living room, we attacked the food; you really thought we made fire, waved at Lady Mary flying in the sky and went home? Oh don’t be silly there had to be some form of food related activities we are Italian at the end of the day! In fact…on the charcoal fire we cooked MARRONI, a particular type of large chestnuts, then we had CIAUSCOLO, a very soft pork salami typical of our region which by accident I bought flavoured with truffle- what a disaster-, then we had a wheel of PECORINO DI COLFIORITO, a fresh cheese with hard and cooked texture obtained from sheep’s milk and finally we ate CIAMMELLOTTO or ciambellone, a giant soft ring cake.
I personally did not know much about the whole thing but as the good story-telling mama I want to become when my friends told me about this feast that puts together family and friends, traditions, food and a pinch of magic I immediately went and investigated on it. From now on I will definitely REMEMBER REMEMBER THE 8th OF DECEMBER.