A VENETIAN CHRISTMAS
Skye McAlpine, the food writer, Sunday Times columnist and author of a Table in Venice and A Table for Friends loves nothing more than a Venetian Christmas. A time when the city is enveloped in a thick fog, and where the Christmas table is laden not only with the gloopiest hot chocolate, a panettone cake but also Cumberland sausages from Fortnum & Mason celebrating the best of Italian and British traditions that McAlpine grew up with.
Where do you like to spend Christmas?
Venice at Christmas time is the most magical time of the year. You have the whole city to yourself -no tourists and no crowds. It’s cold and frosty and everywhere is enveloped in a chilly mist which is dreamy and otherworldly and you feel as if you have stepped into a Christmas movie.
Decorations are traditional and the ancient colonnades drip with holly wreathes, shimmering lights and swags of festive green. I love it. I am of course biased, because for me Venice at Christmas is also filled with nostalgia and memories. I’ve lived in Venice since I was six years old and celebrated more Christmases there than I now care to admit. They always take on the same pattern: there’s the chaotic putting up of the Christmas tree (which arrives in a boat and has to be hauled over a few bridges before it makes its way through our front door) and then decorating it with my mother’s prized Murano glass baubles.
How do you like to celebrate it?
On Christmas Eve we have a big dinner with friends and then we go to midnight mass. I love walking home through the quiet streets late at night after mass, with just the sound of the church bells ringing. And then on Christmas Day we do stockings in the morning: there’s thick hot chocolate topped with whipped cream at Café Florian and panettone for breakfast and then we have a proper Christmas lunch with all the trimmings at my mother’s house. One of the things I loved most as a child about being English but growing up in Italy is that it came with a license to celebrate Christmas the Italian way as well as the British. Broadly speaking, this translated to a feast on Christmas Eve (as is the Italian custom) as well as a big lunch on Christmas Day.
What does your table look like?
It’s overflowing with goodies. I like a table which is groaning with chocolate dipped figs, panforte, fruit, chocolates, nuts, fruit and gold coins strewn down the middle feels festive. Lots of candles to create that soft, atmospheric lighting. And my Christmas marble paper Marmorizzato crackers too.
What do you like to eat?
“I have a very sweet tooth so one of the things I love most about Christmas are all the sweets: Christmas fruitcake which I always bake myself then top with a layers of marzipan and glacée fruits and nuts; lots of panettone - many different kinds (plain, topped with sugar and almonds, enveloped in fondant icing, filled with pistachio cream, and studded with chocolate); and then Pandoro, Panforte, brandy butter, chocolate dipped orange slices and lots of thick, rich hot chocolate. For Christmas lunch we always have turkey, then to go with it: stuffing, roast potatoes, red cabbage, Brussel sprouts and cranberry sauce.
What do you like to give (and receive?)
The best presents, I always think, are those spoiling things you really want but feel are too extravagant to buy for yourself. I always love napkins, bath salts or bath oils; a pretty set of napkins, a set of linen hand towels, and cookbooks.
Find tableware for the everyday by Skye McAlpine @ skyemcalpinetavola.com