Sardinian Christmas traditions: between custom and legend

Le tradizioni natalizie sarde: tra tradizione e leggenda

As Ceramica Mediterranea, in our mission, we want to spread the peculiar characteristics of our production:

  • zero mileage
  • local raw materials
  • sustainable production
  • human capital of the region

Therefore, we cannot avoid to narrate one of the most magical and traditional moments of the year: Christmas time.

Sardinia is a great land, which contains as many stories and traditions as there are provinces and cultural influences that have impregnated, over the centuries, the Sardinian people.


  • The Sardinian calendar
  • Sa notte ’e xena
  • A Paschixedda o Pasca de Nadale
  • Sardinian culinary traditions by Christmas time
  • The New Year
  • Sa pasca de is tres Reis (Epiphany)

The Sardinian calendar

The Sardinian calendar – of Byzantine derivation – was linked to the timing of work in the fields and did not begin with January, but with September which was called “capudanni”.

To follow October “mesi de ladamini” (month of manure, fertilizer), November “mesi se is mortus”, and here comes the Christmas reference with December that was called “mes’e idas, nadale, paschixedda” (little Easter, another way to understand Christmas festivities, considered of less importance than the “pasca manna”, the big Easter, that is Easter of Resurrection). In Campidano there is also the form Mes’e Paschixedda.

Then January bennarzu”, February “friaxiu”, March “marzu”, April “abrili”, May “maiu”, June “lampadas” (on June 24 the ritual fires of St. John are lit), July “treulas”, August “austu”.

Sa notte ‘e xena – Sardinian Christmas Eve

Sa notte ‘e xena (the night of the dinner).
The first festive day of the Christmas period coincides with Christmas Eve.
In the past the shepherds came down from the mountain shelters or returned from the transhumance, to spend the festivities with their families.

The domestic walls and the hearth became, therefore, the fulcrum of the Christmas festivities. Around the fireplace they shared good food, the elders told stories and legends to the children who also enjoyed the game of Sa Murra, Su Barralliccu (a kind of spinning top) Sa Tombùla (the tombola).

On the evening of December 24, the fire of the fireplace was lit with a wooden log previously kept for the occasion, called “su truncu e’xena“, which had to remain lit for all the holidays, until the Epiphany.
The fire had to burn continuously, and the family had to commit itself to keep it always lit, in the belief that this ritual practice would bring economic fortune and health to the family.

The poorest families – who could not afford lavish meals – were helped by the community, which during these days offered the so-called “mandada”: a supply of food consisting of sausage, cheese and sweets.

Typical sardinian campidanese house. Photo Casa Steri

A Paschixedda o Pasca de Nadale

At midnight, when the bells of the churches rang, the families went to “sa Miss’e puddu“, that is the mass announced by the first crowing of the rooster, which probably has connections with the “Missa del gall” of Catalan origin.

From the typical stories of many towns of the Campidano of Cagliari, there is a belief that those born on Christmas night had the particularity of not losing teeth and hair during life and to keep the body uncorrupted even after death (“chini nascidi sa nott’è xena non purdiada asut’è terra”). In Logudoro instead it was believed that those who were born on that night, could preserve from misfortune seven houses in the neighborhood.

The night of Christmas was also wrapped in popular traditions anything but religious, women who practiced divination and white magic (“bruxas” or “deinas”) when they felt their end approaching, prepared for the succession another person of confidence to transmit knowledge and powers and usually this step was made only in the period between Christmas and Epiphany.

Christmas day was and is a feast that is usually spent in the family, in front of a table full of food.

Sardinian culinary traditions for Christmas time

There is not a typical menu for Sardinian Christmas celebrations. Dishes vary according to the geographical location: there are those who consume more fish because they live on the coast, and those who prefer a meat menu because they live inland.

However, there are some traditional Christmas dishes spread all over Sardinia:

  • Porcetto or porchetto: a suckling pig cooked on a spit for several hours and flavored with myrtle and spices.
  • Agnello, usually served stewed or roasted.
  • Bottarga (mullet or tuna roe), used as a condiment for pasta.
  • Cullurgiones, typical ravioli with personalized fillings according to the Sardinian province they belong to.
  • Sardinian Christmas breads. Every province or city has its own typical bread:
    • Sa Tunda: typical bread of Teulada and neighboring towns made with durum wheat semolina;
    • Su Bacchiddu ‘e deu: long loaves with bishop’s elements, typical of Sassari;
    • Su Accèddhuloaf of bread typical of the Ogliastra area, in the shape of a small child.
    • Carasau bread and guttiau.
  • Pabassinas, short pastry cakes with raisins, almonds, walnuts, grated lemon peel and honey.
  • Su Pan’e Saba, similar to pabassinas, kneaded with saba (cooked grape must) and dried fruit

    The New Year’s Eve

    Grazia Deledda – a well-known Sardinian writer and Nobel Prize winner for literature in 1926 – tells with a wealth of details, a tradition of the New Year’s Eve (typical especially in Barbagia), in her story “l’Ospite”.

    It is a Sardinian custom of the last night of the year. Two grains of barley are put into the water and the liquid element is shaken a little to make them walk. The grains of barley represent two lovers, to which sometimes is added a third, man or woman, who makes the adventures of the strange navigation more interesting…

    The two grains made crazy turns: they drifted apart, they came closer, they split again; but finally they resumed their normal course. And she fled again; for a moment she stopped, waited, and seemed to have a conversation with him, at a respectful distance; then she fled again…

    The passage tells of the tradition that wants, in this game of water whirlpools and grains of rice, to predict the future of a young couple or a family.

    Another tradition is related to the first person you meet on the morning of the first of the year: if you met a man or a woman with a hump, it meant that you would be very lucky during the year. Generally, meeting a man as the first person was a positive sign compared to meeting a woman.

    Sa pasca de is tres Reis (Epiphany)

    Also the festivity of Epiphany, in Sardinia is impregnated with religious and popular traditions.

    On the night between January 5 and 6, people did not expect the arrival of the Befana, but of the Three Kings, who would bring as a gift to the unborn Jesus: gold, incense and myrrh.

    The Sardinian name is similar to the one used by the Catalans for the Three Kings, “els tres Reis”, and it is in Catalonia that special gifts are still exchanged on Epiphany night.

    In some Sardinian localities, they used to prepare a cake in which were mixed a broad bean, a chickpea and a bean. Once the dough was cooked and served at the table, whoever managed to find one of the three legumes in their slice would be lucky for the whole year.

    Another tradition was to prepare flatbreads decorated in different ways (depending on the area, the name and appearance changed) and break them, on the day of Epiphany, on the head of the youngest child in the family, as a sign of propitiation and passage from the old to the new.

    The Three Kings cake in a photo from Claudia Zedda’s Kòendi blog.

    Sardinia is a wonderful land and we are proud to spread its traditions, skills and unique productions.

    Bona pascas de Nadale e bonas festas to all
    from Ceramica Mediterranea!