Christmas Traditions of Italy
Christmas has different traditions around the world, and I wanted to share those from Italy, my mom’s native land. I found this article that gives the different traditions, including foods for that season. I love my heritage and sharing about it with others.
Italian traditions in Italy are based heavily on the religion ofChristianity. Christmas starts eight days before Christmas and laststill after the Feast of Epiphany. Musical salutes are made at the shrineof the Virgin Mary and songs are played at the homes of carpenters inhonor of St. Joseph. Eight days before Christmas, a special Novena ofprayers and church services begin. It all ends on Christmas Day. OnDecember 23rd, sometimes earlier, children dressed as shepherds withsandals, leggings tied with crossing thongs, and wearing shepherds’hats, go from house to house playing songs on shepherds’ pipes andgiving recitations. They receive money to buy Christmas treats. Incities like Rome real shepherds sometimes carry out the performance.A strict fast is observed 24 hours before Christmas after which a mealwith many dishes (but no meat) is served. The traditional Christmasdinner, Cenone, is made up of spaghetti and anchovies, anassortment of fish, fresh broccoli, tossed salad, fruits, and sweets.A Yule log, the Ceppo, is burned, and toasts in wine and wishes for thefuture are expressed. The Urn of Fate, an old Italian tradition, is alarge ornamental bowl that holds wrapped gifts for members of thefamily. When the family gets together, each member takes his turn atdrawing a gift from the urn until all the presents are distributed.The presepio (manger or crib) represents in miniature the Holy Familyin the stable and is the center of Christmas for families. Guests kneelbefore it and musicians sing before it . The presepio figures are usuallyhand-carved and very detailed in features and dress. The scene isoften set out in the shape of a triangle. This is a wooden framearranged to make a pyramid several feet high. Several tiers of thinshelves are supported by this frame. It is entirely decorated withcolored paper, gilt pine cones, and miniature colored pennants. Smallcandles are fastened to the tapering sides. A star or small doll ishung at the apex of the triangular sides. The shelves above themanger scene have small gifts of fruit,candy, and presents. The ceppois in the old Tree of Light tradition which became the Christmas treein other countries. Some houses even have a ceppo for each child inthe family.From the Castle of Saint Angelo in Rome a cannon is fired to proclaimthe opening of the Holy Season. Each tries to outdo the other bydisplaying the biggest presepio.Children in Italy hang up their stockings on the Feast of theEpiphany, January 6. They celebrate the visit of the Three Kings toBethlehem. Instead of Santa Claus, children are expecting Befana.She is a witch-like character who rides around on a broom. Thelegend is that the Three Wise Men, I re magi, stopped at Befana‘s hut to askdirections on their way to Bethlehem and asked her to join them. Shesaid no, she was too busy. Later a shepherd asked her to join him inpaying respect to the Baby Jesus. Again, Befana said no. Later when itwas dark and she saw a great light in the skies, she thought perhapsshe should have gone with the Wise Men. So, she gathered some toysthat had belonged to her own baby, who had died, and ran to find thekings and the shepherd. But Befana could not find them or the stable.Now, each year she looks for the Christ Child. And each year sinceshe can not find him, she leaves the gifts for the good children of Italyand pieces of charcoal for the bad ones..No meat is eaten for twenty-four hours before Christmas Eve, butthere follows a meal as big as the family can afford. A special NewYear Banquet is eaten on the last day of the year, with raisin bread,turkey, chicken, rabbit, and spaghetti. Champagne is the drink of theevening.