Many people do not know, but there are plenty of wonderful things to enjoy in Puglia during the Christmas holiday season. In the period from Immacolata on December 8 (the Feast Day of the Immaculate Conception) to Epiphany on January 6 you can immerse yourself in the magical atmosphere of the Christmas markets, see Live Nativity scenes, listen to live Christmas songs and performances of musicians playing the bagpipe (zampognari), and taste seasonal specialties. Puglia is beautiful all year round, but during the winter holidays it becomes even more special with Christmas lights and decorations. If you love the spirit of Christmas filled with family, traditions, spirituality, excellent food and a cheerful mood, then head to Puglia during the holidays and learn several celebratory traditions of the region.
1. Visit Christmas markets in Puglia, Italy
Check out our tips on what to do in Puglia during the Christmas holiday season, if you will be traveling to this southern Italian region in the period from Immacolata on December 8 (the Feast Day of the Immaculate Conception) to Epiphany on January 6. Each city has its own unique Christmas markets where you can have a stroll and shop for local artisan crafts and food. While live music fills the air and the smell of cooked meats and sweets entice you, it will be hard not to indulge in the offerings of the season.
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2. Visit the Presepi Viventi (Live Nativity Scenes) in Alberobello, Matera and other places in Puglia. While you are in Puglia during the Christmas holidays, don’t miss a chance to see the live Nativity scenes, ‘Presepe Vivente’ in Italian. The tradition of live Nativity scenes, a theatrical performance of Christ’s birth, is especially popular in southern Italy. While the live Nativity scenes are being performed, you may also encounter real craftsmen who create tools, and real cheese makers who make cheese, all of them wearing clothes of former times. Surprisingly, more than 30 towns in Puglia organize live Nativity scenes during the Christmas holiday season usually on December 22-26 and January 3-6. Considered the most scenic and original of all the live Nativity performances are those in the ancient amphitheater of Lecce, in the trulli of Alberobello and the stone caves of Matera. The first ever live Nativity scene in charming Ostuni dates back to 1972, and is now a renowned event that attracts locals and visitors of Puglia to admire this unique representation. More eminent ‘presepi viventi’ take place in Tricase, Gallipoli, Specchia, Oria, Trani, Polignano A Mare, Canosa di Puglia and many other towns. Feel the magical Christmas atmosphere of Puglia by going to the best Presepi Viventi –Nativity performances of this marvelous Italian region!
3. Enjoy Seasonal Specialties
If you are in Puglia during this festive season, be sure to taste some of the most delicious traditional Christmas desserts of Puglia: cartellate, pesce di pasta di mandorla and purciadduzzi! The Puglia holidays are not complete without typical Christmas sweets! Savor yummy cartellate, fried spiraled dough covered with sweet vincotto (cooked wine), and taste the heavenly purciadduzzi, small fried dough balls covered with honey, nuts and confetti. Do not miss the tasty pesce di pasta di mandorla (almond paste fish), which are a traditional dessert of Puglia and one of the important symbols in Christianity. One of the favorite sweets of children, the almond paste in the form of fish, can be stuffed with jam of different tastes. Take a bite of heaven with a good Italian Christmas treat.
4. Nativity scenes at the Fair of papier- mâché puppets in Lecce
Since Lecce is the temple of papier-mâché art, no wonder this city annually organizes Fiera dei Pupi, the Fair of papier-mâché puppets, in its historical center during the Christmas holidays. Here it is possible to find stunning presepi and many small items for sale so you can create your own personal Nativity scene.
5. Visit Artisan’s shops and find a unique present for your loved ones The tradition of producing artisanal goods has been a defining component of Italy’s history. In Puglia you can still find artisan workshops in places like Laterza, Grottaglie, Polignano a Mare, Bari and Lecce. Among the handmade goods there are pottery from Grottaglie or Laterza and uniquely designed Light Objects made by Peppino Campanella in Polignano a Mare. Then there are the figurines, clay whistles, wooden statuettes or religious representations as well as carnival masks and even jewelry that is made of papier-mâché by craftsmen in Lecce or Putignano. There are very special wooden postcards created by an artist and woodworker in Bari. Putignano is known for its Carnival, especially for the papier- mâché masks and decorations made by the craftsmen called “cartapestai”. The material is created by mixing water with pages torn from old newspapers and adding flour. Forms are created and painted and the results are quite stunning.
Weavers in Surano make wonderful textiles and carpets on hand looms. This ancient technique is passed from one generation to the next. Custom-made carpets are produced with a selection of beautifully hand-dyed patterns and colors. The process takes a few months, but it’s worth the wait. The hand weaving of the Salento area is an ancient practice that puts together high mastery with the lightness of traditional themes. But when on linen, cotton and wool tradition is accompanied by creativity and the new rips the warp and the weave, then what you see becomes emotion and reflection, and craftsmanship becomes art. In places such as Alberobello or Acquarica del Capo weavers and still make hand-woven baskets that are both functional and beautiful. In Martina Franca you can find craftsmen who know how to create unique objects made from wrought iron.
Strolling among Martina Franca’s narrow old town streets, take one look at the balconies and you will understand how well those working with wrought iron know their craft. Swirls and scrolls decorate the balustrades and the sides of each historical building. Iron street lamps line the streets. They are decorated with scrolls and leaves twisted on themselves. For many years Martina Franca’s workshops have made headboards, chandeliers, sconces, lamp posts, railings, balustrades, mirrors, tables and coffee tables of every size and shape. Thanks to the work, passion and dedication of Martina Franca’s craftsmen, the modern production techniques and the art of the master blacksmiths of former times have been combined and thus made sure that the traditional craft can be passed on to generations to come. Made in Italy handicrafts have been the base of the Italian economy for many years. In former times artisans used to produce their handmade goods for royalty and the members of noble families. Today everybody can visit them in their workshops during one of Puglia Private Tour’s Artisans of Puglia Tour.