Sport & Nature

Christmas time is coming around, and it is dressed in green.

Nature is full of gifts. We are the ones who have to make the most of them respecting traditions

By Saveria Fiore, photo by Vito Fusco

When the season arrives, people of all ages get ready to stack up the typical herbs to get into the Christmas spirit. The symbolic date has always been the 8th of December, the feast day of the Immaculate Conception. Locals spend the day decorating their Christmas tree and setting up the nativity scene. But this is also the day to harvest myrtle (Myrtus communis) to make the popular liquor in time. The berries and leaves need to macerate in alcohol for about 40 days before turning into the homemade Mirto that everyone loves. It’s also essential to make it on the 8th because it’s the Virgin Mary day, and myrtle is considered sacred according to the religious tradition.

The green of the Nativity Scene

Herbs are an essential part of the nativity scene: from the common moss to the Erica Scoparia, a heath species that in the area is commonly known with the dialect word “scupazzell,” that refers to the fact that the herb was used to create brooms. Another permanent fix in nativity scenes, especially in the outdoor installations, is the Ruscus aculeatus. Since many villages in the Amalfi Coast place their Christmas crib in the stone quarries, this plant is useful to keep rodents away thanks to its bitter leaves. But it also serves a less practical and more traditional purpose, which is to keep out all the evil spirits.

 

Choosing carefully to make the mirto
The selection of the best blueberries
Blueberries placed in the kitchen
Ready for the mirto

Plants and craft

Traditions and herbs are also interwound, thanks to the expert hands of craftsmen. Those who are more ingenious still create centerpieces with pinecones, twigs of cypress, juniper, and candles as gifts to friends and family. And we cannot forget to mention the pine (Pinus Silvestrys), the traditional tree of the Christmas festivities in catholic countries: since it is an evergreen coniferous tree, it represents eternal life, and for that, it is a symbol of Jesus Christ. Even Pope Benedict XVI described the tree, saying that “its shape, its branches and the green of its leaves are symbols of life and remind us the sacred mystery of the Holy Night.”

Christmas on the doorstep

To create the warm festive atmosphere typical of the Amalfi Coast villages, families carefully decorate the outside and the inside of their homes. Mistletoe and the Christmas holly, sometimes linked in a garland, are hung at the doors for good luck following the tradition. The mistletoe (Viscum album) was sacred for the Celts and was viewed as a symbol of something that doesn’t have roots, placed between sky and earth; today still holds this mystical meaning. While according to Roman mythology, it looks like holly was the sacred plant for the god Saturn and people were used to place it on their doors as protection against evil spirits.

 

The necessary ingredients for the meanest maretata
The selection of the best vegetables
The most important ingredients for the traditional soup

Kitchen garden recipes

The menesta mmaretata is an essential part of every Christmas dinner or lunch. Every year the beloved soup, one of the oldest traditional dishes of the Neapolitan culinary tradition, is a must for the festivities. Historically every family showed its take on the original recipe and named a family member to serve the soup from a bowl or a pot. The recipes that are more accurate today still include herbs such as scarulella (endive), borage (Borago officinalis), common sowthistle (Sonchus oleraceus), and the leaves of wild fennel (Foeniculum Vulgare Miller). Each vegetable needs to be cooked separately first and then mixed with pork broth.

Decorations

Another significant mention is the laurel, called “o’ lauro.” This plant has always represented poetry and wisdom. It was sacred for the ancient god Apollo. Our ancestors used it as a medical remedy for its digestive properties. Even today, families place the laurel in the basket reserved for the ever-present fried zeppole (typical doughnuts). Nature has always been gifting us essential pieces of our identity that turned into our heritage. That’s why Christmas is the perfect time to bring out that part of us once again and share it with the community.

(Translation by Michela Pandolfi)

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