Christmas in Calabria: Singing in the Streets, Bonfires and Sweets

For the holiday season this year, NIAF is highlighting a few traditions from each of Italy’s 20 regionsthat perhaps is carried on in your Italian American family or is a new tradition you’d like to start.

Credit: Dianne Hales


Credit: Martina Falvo

In the province of Cosenza and still upheld in inland villages, there is the Christmas Eve tradition of the strina. In the past, the musicians used to go from house to house to bring the “good news” of Christ’s birth, getting paid and thanked with eggs, cheese, olive oil, wine and salami.

Credit: Viaggi Art

In more recent times, groups of relatives, friends, acquaintances pass through the streets making music with tambourines and accordion, singing in different dialects to wish wealth, happiness and good health. The strina is usually accompanied by the sound of the ancient bronze tool used for “denting” the salt and guitars, mandolins, accordions and tambourines.

Focare: A Christmas Bonfire

Credit: Maria Lombardo

Known as focare or focarine, these big bonfires are lit on Christmas Eve where villagers will socialize, dance and sing until dawn. Fire symbolizes purification from original sin and the bonfire signifies the burning of all the bad that was in the past.

One of the most well-known bonfires is in the town of Bisignano, the fire is lit on Christmas Eve and the youth feed the fire all night with wood that they have accumulated for days leading up until the 24th. After the midnight mass, the villagers gather around the focare to exchange greetings and to spend the night in the company, accompanied by folk music. The festive atmosphere is enhanced by those who play the zampogna, which is the Italian bagpipe made of goat skin and rods worked by skilled craftsmen, often also skilled musicians. To learn more about the zampogna players, zampognari, go to page 30 of NIAF’s Ambassador magazine, 2020 winter issue.


These Christmas sweets are typical of Reggio Calabria. Petrali are moon-shaped cookies that contain a dried fruit filling, flavored with liqueur and coffee. Like all typical recipes, every family has its own. The basic recipe calls for a shortbread dough with a mixture of dried figs, walnuts, almonds and orange zest, usually chopped and soaked in cooked wine (vino cotto) and coffee. They’re finished with an egg wash and beads of colored sugar or chocolate. Check out Giallo Zafferano’s recipe.

For video clips of the traditions mentioned above, visit

Stay tuned for more Christmas in Italy posts! If you want NIAF to share a tradition, email us a description at

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