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December in Milan is a hectic month of shopping excitement. Then, it all comes to a halt for two important meals: Christmas Eve dinner and Christmas day lunch. You have probably already guessed: these meals are based on tradition... and panettone (which also comes in luxury versions).
In Milan, Christmas time starts on December 8, a holiday dedicated to the Immaculate Conception, when people begin decorating their home with the Christmas tree or the Nativity scene. Outside lights enliven the city and celebrations officially start.
In Piazza Duomo, the big fir tree is lit up and the roof of the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele is filled with thousands of fabulous coloured lights up above, fascinating everyone. As people hustle along the streets, carrying bags of gifts and panettone boxes, you can sense it… the magic of Christmas is in the air.
Right underneath the Duomo, there are picturesque stalls selling sweets and souvenirs. But the true Milanese traditions reside in the Rinascente shop windows where true works of art amuse passers-by; the deli counter at Peck, a temple of gastronomic luxury; and the panettone displayed in the many bakeries and shops. In Italy, Christmas is especially about family lunches and dinners; Here’s how we celebrate it.
On Christmas Eve, the dinner is based on fish, without meat. Then for the lunch on the 25th, tradition reigns, and in Milan it’s centred around cold cuts and pâté, tortellini in broth, stuffed and roasted capon (poultry), and of course panettone for dessert. Then everyone plays bingo or cards and waits for dinner – a meal made of leftovers.
The Christmas sweet bread loaf, now popular throughout Italy, has become a national symbol. It’s rich, made of butter, eggs, raisins and candied fruit, and should be served with mascarpone cream to make it even more delicious.
The frenzy that seizes Milan throughout December – traffic, racing to buy gifts, dinners with colleagues, holidays, shops open on Sundays – it all seems to vanish on the evening of December 24. The Milanese celebrate mostly at home and a few families drive to relatives. On December 25, everything is closed, streets are silent and tourists struggle to find something to do. Fortunately, many museums and exhibition facilities now remain open for the holiday season (albeit little frequented) – Palazzo Reale, PAC, Mudec, Museo del Novecento. Cinemas instead are crowded, especially for the afternoon and evening shows.
In the city centre, you can find the best panettone produced by the historical Marchesi and Cova pastry shops, now respectively owned by the Prada and French LVMH luxury groups.
The most loved one on the 24th of December in the Duomo, held by the Archbishop of the city, with the enchanting presence of the choir.
The innovative-Mediterranean two-Michelin star Aimo and Nadia restaurant, offers an exceptional dinner.
Milan is not really the city for Christmas markets, but strolling along the Darsena to see the stalls is still a favourite pastime.
At Trattoria Masuelli, the Lombard-Piedmontese tradition reigns with a menu based on braised beef tortellini and capon consommé, pumpkin risotto and panettone with mascarpone cream produced in the province of Lodi.