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XMAS MUSTS: 10 things to do in Venice between Christmas and New Year's
Written by Redazioneweb2   

“Florian’s cafe is, at the same time, a stock exchange, a theatre foyer, a reading room, a social club, a confession box” (Honorè de Balzac). Goldoni, Casanova, Byron, Foscolo, Goethe, Dickens, Proust, D’Annunzio, Eleonora Duse, Rubinstein, Stravinsky, are just a few of the illustrious personages who frequented this cafe. The coffee house called Alla Venezia Trionfante was inaugurated on 29 December 1720, under the Procuratie Nuove in Saint Mark’s Square. Soon the Venetians rebaptized it Florian, from the name of its first owner, Floriano Francesconi. On 29 December 2010, Caffè Florian will celebrate its splendid 290 years of life! Don’t deny yourself a part in the celebration: order here a famous, insuperable bicierin, a mixture of coffee, chocolate and cream. Buy some of the commemorative postcards (limited supply) which do not require stamps; these have been dedicated by the Poste Italiane to Florian’s anniversary. A temporary Post Office stand under the portico will be open from 12 noon to 5 p.m.


Although it’s not the same as strolling in the zone of San Gregorio Armeno in Naples, nevertheless, even in Venice it is possible to visit some very beautiful creches, which each year remind an increasingly distracted world what is the true essence of Christmas. Almost all parish churches set up one, for its symbolic value. Some are important, having large dimensions, numerous personages and pseudo-Nazarene settings (envisioned according to Italian taste). These may be seen at the Basilica dei Frari, at San Polo, San Cassiano  and San Salvador. In Mestre, a noteworthy creche is the one prepared by the Friars in via Cappuccina.


Strolling along campi and calli, among stands bright with coloured lights, with Venice itself as a background. It what other place could Christmas be so romantic? The Christmas Fair, held from 20 to 24 December, winds along the entire Strada Nuova, expanding in Campo San Bartolomeo, Campo San Luca and Campo Manin. It’s a kind of paradise for last minute shopping: here you can find just about everything, from arts and crafts to gloves and hats. Only the choice is difficult! If you can’t resist antiques, prints, paintings, books, postcards, various types of lace, Murano glass, old bijoux or other curiousities, don’t miss the Mercatino dell’Antiquariato di San Maurizio (Antiques Market) from the 17th until the 19th. Just strolling by and looking at the merchandise is more amusing than buying at the Flea Market, Campo dei Miracoli, on the11th and 12th.


The Museo del ‘700 veneziano at Ca’ Rezzonico is the natural habitat for Mozart and Haydn, ‘sound tracks’ of the XVIII century and protagonists of the Christmas concert of 23 December entitled  Il Sinfonismo classico. Lovers of this genre must not miss the performance of  L’Offerta Musicale, Venice’s in pectore chamber orchestra. Riccardo Parravicini is its director; he is the founder and artistic director of «Autunno Musicale», of which this event forms part. Climbing up the staircase of honour, taking a place in the grandiose ballroom, with its double height of two storeys, is the "royal" moment in this mansion of the Rezzonico family.


“Christmas” signifies “Gospel" too. The warmth and involving enthusiasm released by the performances of Afro-American choruses becomes quite useful during the winter chill, especially in the days before Christmas. Palazzo Grassi must know all this very well, if it has decided to host, from 18 until 19 December, a true symbol of this music like Earl Bynum, directly from  Virginia together with his historic group As We Are and its new member Cora “Sister” Armstrong, on the scene for over thirty years. After the spirit, do you want to nourish your body, too? Slow Food will provide a selection of typical products, starting at 8:30 p.m.


For those who desire to start the New Year in a place rich in fascination and culture, an obligatory stop is the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, which, for several years, has been offering its visitors the pleasure of a drink, in order to toast together the newborn year. This is an intelligent, original way of blending the aesthetic visions of absolute modern art masterpieces which belonged to Peggy (including the works of Gottlieb, on display until 9 January), with the wishes for the new year, thus creating a synthesis which fully respects the vox populi “Who begins well...”.


Have you eaten too much? If Christmas, in addition to gifts of all sizes, has also left you the dubious present of a bloated belly, then the best remedy is to bathe in the frigid water of the Lido, in order to tone your muscles and burn away fat. What? You wouldn’t even think of doing that? Oh well, be satisfied with going to the habitual appointment on 1 January with the Bagno degli Ibernisti, fearless challengers of the waves, who renew the rites of good wishes to a background of Viennese waltz music.They will offer, to all participants, a plate of cotechino with lentils, accompanied by fine wine. This event will begin at 12 noon.


The penetrating chill is reconciled by the relief offered by that famous boiled beverage, hot chocolate. In Venice, you can find excellent chocolate almost everywhere. But, because we are always on the lookout for the very best, we would like to point out the extraordinary chocolate, authentic and not designed, with freshly-whipped cream, served at  Palazzina Grassi; also noteworthy is that of the Quadri Cafè, and obviously that of Florian’s. Among the “easier” spots, we can mention Caffè del Doge near Rialto, the former historic Zorzi milk bar in Calle dei Fuseri, and Torrefazione Marchi in Cannaregio, where the intense fragrance of coffee blends with the sweetness of the finest cocoa.


The relationship between Venice and Saint Lucy is full of dramatic events and curious anecdotes. The body of the saint, currently preserved in the Venetian Church of San Geremia, has been the theme of some recent but also very old chronicling. Object of a millenial dispute between the Lagoon City and Siracusa, Lucy’s birthplace, the body was stolen in 1981; it was subsequently recovered precisely in the night of 13 December of the same year, the day on which the saint has always, traditionally, been honoured (this is the day on which the martyr died, in 304 A.D.). In Veneto and other regions of North Italy, Saint Lucy substitutes Santa Claus in satisfying the wishes of numerous children who write letters to her, swearing that “they are being very good”.
Tradition conceives her as riding on a broomstick. Yet, in Venice, even the “Epiphany Witch” is associated with rowing! Epiphany is celebrated here with a great classic: the Regata delle Befane. Five veteran rowers (over 55 years of age) are chosen to participate. They are disguised as old ladies, with scarves and warty noses, and challenge each other along Canal Grande (from S.Tomà to Rialto) in a brief but intense race in mascarete, typical one-oared Venetian boats on which have been affixed witches’ brooms. Their goal is to win a flag (symbol of victory) in this first regatta of the year. The finish line is marked by a long sock, filled with coal, which is subsequently distributed by the “old ladies” in a grand party at the Rialto Market (6 January, 11 a.m., Rialto Bridge).