Tuesday, December 27, 2005

The Italian ceremony of the tree stump


The traditional panettone of Milano, Italy, was originally nothing but a large loaf of bread, the preparation of which was supervised by the owner of the house, who, before it was baked, carved a cross on it with a knife as a sign of blessing. The large loaf was then eaten by the family reunited for the traditional Christmas ceremony of the tree stump, “ceppo” in Italy.
The father, or the head of house, made the sign of the cross, then took a large tree stump, usually oak and laid it in the fire place, with a bunch of juniper and poked the fire. He poured wine into a goblet, sprinkled it onto the flames, taking a first sip then passing it to the other members of the family. The father then threw a coin on the ceppo and distributed more coins to the others. Finally the family presented him with three large loaves of wheat and, in a solemn gesture, cut a small part, that was preserved until the following Christmas. The stump symbolized the tree of good and evil, the fire the work of redemption of Jesus Christ; the loaves, antecedents of the panettone, symbolized the mystery of the Holy Trinity. From this ancient and evocative tradition we still have today two parts: the belief of the "miraculous restorative power" of the "pangrande" consumed at Christmas, and the same "pangrande" which is now known as panettone.