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23 Dec 2015

Christmas in Sardinia


At Christmas time Sardinia becomes a nativity scene. This wonderful island, famous for its emerald seas, its coasts set in the granite and its sand whiter than snow, takes on a different appearance at Christmas.

Its villages, caressed by the evening breeze and scented with juniper, are lit up with a thousand lights, in a landscape that takes the heart back to Palestine 2000 years ago.

At Christmas time Sardinia rediscovers its ancient folk traditions, with a flavour of mountains and pastures.

Christmas, then as now, was the time when all the family and friends got together round the fireplace. According to tradition, before Christmas Eve the fireplace would be painted and a large log called “su truncu de xena”, would be put there to burn throughout the festive period.

In this period, when the sea gives way to the mountains, there’s lamb on every table. The lamb was the main food for a people of shepherds and in the most important feast of the year it is an indispensable symbol of well-wishing and thanksgiving.

And then bread, home-made, often in various shapes, which used to be given to famished children and today is put on display on the laden dining-tables.

During the Christmas lunch or dinner, the traditional appetisers are there: sausage, pecorino (ewe’s cheese) and a schibechi olives. As a first course there are Curlurgiones de casu (ravioli stuffed with fresh pecorino, chard, nutmeg and saffron) served with a tomato sauce and grated pecorino; there are also the gnocchetti sardi with a sausage-flavoured sauce. For those who are not fond of lamb, there’s the famous porceddu (piglet) aromatised with myrtle, accompanied by the season’s vegetables such as celery, fennel and radishes. And to finish, the typical sweets of ricotta with honey, the seadas.

After dinner, while waiting for the Midnight Mass, known as “Sa Miss’è Puddu”, or the “Mass of the first cock-crow”, you can still hear the sound of the zampogna (bagpipes) and the launeddas, an ancient instrument similar to the flute.

So Sardinia at Christmas reveals a new face: ancient and modern live side by side and the feast pervades every street with the smell of freshly made bread, leading us into a truly magical dimension.