Day 3 – Christmas Eve

Shellfish seller at Porta Nolana In the busy streets around Porta Nolana the fishmongers were in full cry, drowning each other out as they tried to get rid of their fish before it began to smell, and feverishly hosing water all over their stalls, the street, and the passers-by. Wizened old women and muscular young men waved live octopuses and extolled the freshness of their wares. Between their stalls, hawkers of bootleg CDs blared their music as loud as it would go.

Shopping at Porta Nolana Still reacquainting myself with Naples I took a roundabout walk towards the Centro Storico. Lots of Chinese were on the streets leading off Piazza Garibaldi. They are taking over not only shops but whole streets of shops, especially around Porta Capuana. Most of them sell the usual knick-knacks, radios, batteries, magnifying glasses, et cetera, but others specialize in clothing and household goods. Although they never seem to stop working, I can hardly imagine that they can make a living from their stalls. And can so many be here legally? Centre-left leader Franceso Rutelli got himself into trouble by controversially stating that the Chinese were particularly good at evading immigration control because "to us they all look the same" and can therefore easily pass their ID cards on to one another".

Corso Umberto The second-hand clothes market at Porta Nolana Corso Umberto, the long busy shopping street leading towards Piazza Municipio, was lined with sad-looking Africans hawking the ubiquitous baseball caps and artifacts. There must be thousands of them eking out a precarious existence on the streets here, barely making a few Euros each day for a bite to eat and a roof over their heads. I walked back along Via Nolana, passing the second-hand clothes market (right) in Via Cesare Carmignano, which takes place every Sunday morning.

Scooters parked at Piazza Garibaldi

As evening approached, I returned to an unusually quiet Piazza Garibaldi – all were at home, although a few lonely-looking zampognari, colourfully dressed shepherds from the mountains of Abruzzi, were playing Christmas music on their bagpipes. A good time for reflection, on times past and distant friends. On my first Christmas Eve in Naples I met two English squash teachers as I was on my way to this Piazza to phone home. We bought a couple of beers from the truck on the corner of Corso Umberto, and they waited for me as I made the phone call to Dublin. Behind me, queing to use the phone, were three Arabs, who jostled against me slightly as I spoke to my family. I returned to the two English chaps, put my hand in my pocket to buy the next round, and found my wallet was gone--the Arabs had nicked it! My credit cards, bank link card and all my cash were in it--a disappointing Christmas present! It was the first and last time I had my pocket picked in Naples (I only had my pocket successfully picked on one other occasion--in Quetta, on the border of Afghanistan, but that's another story...).

As far back as 1837 the Duke of Buonvicino published a list of the meals that were eaten in Naples at Christmas. Included were anchovies with brocolli, vermicelli with clams, fried fish with lemon juice, squid and fried eels (Capitone). The Neapolitan housewives prepare in advance the smaller dishes for the Christmas period, for example a sausage "ravioli" and the "panettone," or currant loaf, so special to festival occasions, and sweet dishes such as roccocò and struffoli (honey balls). The main Christmas meal, the "Cenone", is eaten on Christmas Eve. Traditionally, this dinner is meatless, with fish figuring prominently, but substantial. Pizza alla scarola, pizza with prickly lettuce and flavoured with black olives from Gaeta, sultanas, pine kernels and capers, is a traditional Christmas Eve treat. Other dishes include Spaghetti con le vongole (clams), Baccalà alla napoletana (salted cod), Capitone fritto (fried eels), Spigola al vapore (steamed sea-bass). To tide the family over until Midnight Mass, a supply of dried fruit and nuts is kept at hand.

After dinner a crib (called a presepio) showing the Nativity scene is prepared. The figures in the crib are often antique and beautifully sculpted in the manner of the Neapolitan crib, made by sculptors in the Via San Gregorio Armani. At midnight on Christmas Eve the entire family often attends a candlelit midnight mass.

The children set out their shoes for the female Santa Claus, La Befana, to fill with gifts of all kinds like toys, sweets and fruit, or maybe by "Babbo Natale or even "Gesù Bambino"(Baby Jesus). Good children find their shoes filled with goodies on Christmas morning, whereas those of naughty children are filled with coal.

As the man said:
"At Christmas play and make good cheer,
For Christmas comes but once a year."

Buon Natale!

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