Unconventional Christmas

A trip around the world to discover the little gestures that make Christmas special in the cities of Refettorios and Social Tables


Credits: Refettorio Gastromotiva

Around this time of the year, there’s a red thread connecting all the places where Refettorios and Social Tables operate and it’s not just about the decorations and the Christmas trees, it’s a shared feeling of celebration and solidarity. This year we made a trip around the world looking for the little gestures and traditions that make Christmas even more special.

Paris and the ‘sweetness’ of sharing
A typical dessert served by all Parisian families on Christmas day is the ‘Galette des Roix’ (originally called ‘Gateau de l’Egalité’), to celebrate the presents brought by the three Wise Men. As the tradition wants it, there’s a bean hidden inside the dessert and whoever is lucky enough to find it is nominated king or queen of the day. The oldest person sitting at the table is in charge of slicing the cake, and regardless of the numbers of diners, one slice must be left aside for those in need so in case someone knocks at the door, they can be offered a slice of dessert.

London and the power of solidarity
There are two traditions in London that truly stuck with us. On December 26, also known as Boxing Day, employers used to share whatever food was left after the Christmas celebrations with their employees. Today this tradition still stands and Londoners celebrate the value of food and the beauty of sharing by bringing small gifts to the people they meet for work during the holidays – from the baker, to the postman, to their colleagues.

The second one is the ‘Great Christmas Pudding Race‘, a special race held every year in Covent Garden, on December 11. The rules are easy: all racers must run through obstacles holding a pudding and the winner is the one who crosses the finish line without dropping the pudding. This unmissable event represents a moment of great solidarity, especially because all the proceeds go to charity (19.000 pounds were raised last year).

Rio de Janeiro and the unconventional Christmas
Christmas is deeply felt in Rio de Janeiro and the thousands decorations all over the city make it even more special. One of the most awaited events of the year is the lighting of the ‘Árvore de Natal Flutuante’, the floating Christmas tree. With its 85 metres of height, the Árvore de Natal Flutuante won the Guinness World Record as the tallest Christmas tree in the world. The tree is on a floating platform located in the Rodrigo de Freitas lagoon and it’s designed to move around the lagoon so that everyone, wherever they are in the city, can see it and feel the Christmas atmoshpere.

Modena, Bologna and the family traditions from the Emilia Romagna region
What brings together Modena and Bologna, especially during the Christmas holidays, is the great love and respect both towns have for their common traditions. The ‘rezdora’, historically known as the wife of the head of the family, was the one who managed the house and the family (the word itself comes from the Latin verb ‘redigere’, which means ‘to manage’) and still today she is the real keeper of family traditions in the Emilia Romagna region. In the days before Christmas the rezdoras sit together around a table and fold tortellini – each rezdora with her own, very secret family recipe. That’s when you get the chance to listen to some of the most beautiful stories about the region, those almost forgotten tales that can only be told around the table.

Milan and the “suspended” panettone
After the ‘caffè sospeso’ – a cup of coffee paid for in advance as an anonymous act of charity – it’s now time for the ‘panettone sospeso’. The initiative which started on December 8 has been supported by a few pastry shops in Milan where customers who wish to do so can buy a panettone and leave it in the shop. All the panettones raised will be donated to a non-profit organization that provides assistance for people in need. With this little gesture, the panettone – historically known as a the Christmas symbol of Milan – becomes a vehicle of social inclusion.