A magic Christmas tradition in Tuscany: the torchlights in Abbadia San Salvatore

Searching for an original, typical and magic Christmas tradition in Tuscany? The torchlight night in Abbadia San Salvatore, a town on the slopes of the Mount Amiata in the Southern part of the region, is the most breathtaking and eye-catching Christmas celebration you can ever experience under the Tuscan sky. Do you want to know what is it? Follow us by reading our very own Christmas tale!

The Torchlight night is a very ancient tradition that dates back to the Early Middle Ages and has its roots in the celebration of the coming light during the longest nights of the year. The torchlights are a central part of Abbadia San Salvatore’s inhabitants and the tradition goes through the whole month of December, to reach its peak on Christmas Eve.

The inhabitants  build up the torchlights – wooden piles that can reach 6-7 metres in height – all along December in different corners  of the town. During these weeks of preparation, Abbadia is wrapped in a Christmas atmosphere thanks to the exhibition of nativities in the narrow streets of its medieval centre, the Christmas market right in front of the ancient Monastery, that in the Middle Ages was located on the Francigena Route, the pilgrims’ itinerary connecting France and Northern Italy to Rome.

On Christmas Eve the culmination of the tradition takes place and this year we were finally able to make it to Abbadia and witness this spectacular event.  We arrived in the afternoon before it got dark, and while we were walking to the centre, we started to spot several torchlights in various points of the town. Locals were very animated, going back and forth with ladders, wood, other tools and the satisfied but quite nervous face of those who are awaiting the event they have prepared with accuracy and dedication along the whole moth.    

The ceremony started at 6 p.m. in the Town Hall square and followed a precise and traditional liturgy: the Fire was blessed, the torchlight erected in the square was eventually set alight, and as many torches as the number of torchlights are ignited: the torches are delivered to the Torchlight Chiefs who, starting a procession together with a marching band and many inhabitants, will set the other torchlights on fire.  

The ceremony is accompanied by Christmas carols the inhabitants sang all around,  filling the atmosphere with joy and poetry. Local meet and greet each other and those who during the year live and work out of town, come back to Abbadia on Christmas eve, as they would not miss their own tradition for the world! We joined the procession and saw the lighting of about ten torchlights, then we had a rest with a nice aperitivo cocktail in one of the town’s bars, all bursting with people having a drink, exchanging presents and arranging to meet at the Midnight Mass. 

Since the evening was not really cold, and the torchlight fire keep people below it warm, we headed the Christmas markets on the Monastery square (they will continue for the whole Christmastide), and indulged ourselves with a marvellous, savoury, delicious bowl of hot Ribollita, a very famous Tuscan soup made with bread, beans and black cabbage. That was the cherry on the cake and the end of a special and enchanting Christmas Eve, that will be long remembered.   Merry Christmas <3

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