Tuesday, December 21, 2010


   The Christmas season in Italy starts early, with Advent, a 4 week religious time of prayer and ends on January 6th.  Eight days before Christmas a Novena is started.  That is a series of prayers said over a 9 day period (Santa gets a break in Italy).  Children get their gifts on January 6th, from La Befana, the good witch.  The story goes that when they were searching for the Christ Child, the Wise Men asked an old woman for directions and asked that she come along with them and she refused and to this day she roams the world looking for the Christ Child herself and must give out the gifts on the anniversary of the day the wise men finally arrived,  in the hope that the Christ Child will be in one of the homes and get the gifts she should have brought centuries ago...Of course in the United States, celebrating Italian Christmas traditions can mean getting gifts on both December 25th and January 6th.


  It's always a good idea to keep the old traditions going.  There is one Italian Christmas traditions that we have adopted and made our own and that is the Creche.  It started when St. Francis of Assisi had one built for his parishioners.  It was so beautiful that soon everyone wanted one for themselves.  Some of these are literally works of art, worthy of being in a museum.
   One tradition Italy shares with man other countries is the Yule Log.  We usually associate the Yule Log with England, mainly because of the influence of  movies, but it has been a tradition in Italy since pagan times.  Actually, this like many of our Christmas traditions originated in Italy and were brought to other countries by missionaries.  The legend of the Yule Log dictates that it must be left burning until New Years Day, because the Virgin Mary will enter the homes of the poor at night,  when everyone is asleep,  to warm the baby by the fire.

     For 24 hours before Christmas Eve, no meat is eaten, so it makes sense that Christmas Even is the big meal of the holiday.  If you were to be invited to an Italian home for Christmas Eve, you would probably be served appetizers, such as clams oregano,  followed by a soup and salad, maybe even a seafood stew.  The main dish would usually be fish, and usually more than one kind.  Eel is traditional, but today, any kind of fish is used.  Possibly a sole with lemon and butter sauce.  Then there is the pasta course, something like a Lasagna.  A favorite vegetable is zucchini in agrodolce (sweet and sour zucchini).  One thing everyone looks forward to on Christmas Eve after the feast is done, is "The Urn of Fate".  There are packages in the urn for everyone.  Turns are taken until all of the packages are gone, but this is where the "fate" part comes in, some of them are empty.  Every one does get a gift though.

   On Christmas day, the first order of business is going to Church.   The meal of the day consists of some kind of meat or chicken instead of fish.
   There is one tradition that did not make it to the United States.  In the rural areas, shepherds stroll the streets playing bagpipes and collecting money to buy presents.  Children also dress as shepherds and go from house to house play shepherds pipes and asking for money also.


    Santa Claus gets a lot of attention during the holiday season.  He deserves it....rumor has it that he takes into account your wish list, helps you improve your behavior from naughty to nice and travels around the world in just one night to deliver all of those presents.  But how could he do all of this by himself???
   As it turns out, Santa's not alone.  According to folklore, working hard behind the scenes and under the big guy's shadow are Santa's elves.  Typically under appreciated during the holidays, the amount of labor these tiny, mythical creatures clock in is pretty astounding.  We have to assume that much like Rudolph and his red nose, without the help of the elves, Santa could have a lot more stress leading up to Christmas and wouldn't be nearly as jolly.
   But have you ever wondered what the life of an elf is really like?  Sure, there are a lot of stories and movies about Santa's elves...they're featured in everything from "Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer" in 1964, to Will Ferrell's "Elf", in 2004.  And although there are some basic similarities between stories, each account offers its own unique take on elf life and customs.

   So what do elves look like?  Do elves just make toys, or do they have other duties?  Do they work just during the months leading up to Christmas Eve, or do they work all year long?  Do they get health insurance and vacation time?
   Although no one may ever know for sure just how elves operate, we have what we think are the most logical explanations for how they accomplish all that they do. 

Elf Lifestyle

   It may be that Santa's elves don't have too much in common with the elves in J.R.R. Tolkien's "The Lord of Rings".  While Legolas, the main elf from the series of books, is tall and skilled in archery, the elves from the North Pole could be closer in appearance to hobbits.

Elf Appearance

   Elves are widely regarded as being small in stature....no taller than 3 feet, and some might even fit in the palm of your hand.  One of an elf's defining characteristics is his pointy ears, which we think could help in anticipating repairs on Santa's sleigh.  Because elves' ear size in relation to their heads could be quite large, like bats, some think elves could use echolocation.  But, in fact, it's the pinna, or tissue on the outer ear that might best help elves localize sounds like a screw that became loose on a sleigh's runner.

Elf Personality

   Because they're so tiny, elves may not seem too intimidating.  But elves would have to be powerful, energy-packed beings in order to fill Santa's quota of gift making.  Could they be feisty, fidgety and nervous...hard -wired for constant activity, always fiddling and tinkering with objects, taking them apart and putting them back together?
   Santa's elves would also have amazing spatial reasoning, giving them the ability to understand LEGO structures and doll houses in an instant and greatly increasing productivity.  Due to all this movement and excitement, elves would burn a lot of calories....they'd be naturally slender, unlike Santa.

Elf Diet

   The 2004 movie "Elf", would have you believe an elf's diet is "mostly candy, candy canes, candy corn and syrup".  Although it's easy to imagine elves loving candy, they would need to stick to a healthy diet in order to maintain their high level of activity.

Elf Duties

   Although elves might have a natural drive for crafting everything from wooden rocking horses to Xbox 360's, we assume that they would still have to attend elf school.
   Elves would need to learn several basic subjects in order to function correctly in the workshop, and curriculum would include courses such as Woodworking 101, Computer Science and Technology, Locomotives (Large and Miniature) 101 and Advanced Return Policies.  Once an elf graduated with enough elf school credits, he or she could probably gain clearance to perform a wide variety of duties in Santa's workshop.

    Technology is always changing, though, and Santa's elves would need to know everything from traditional toy-making to the most current and up-to-date computer games.  That's why elves would need to continue taking classes even after they graduated...one the newest version of iPod come out; for instance, the elves would need to know the ins and outs well before Santa headed out on Christmas Eve.
   The reindeer would also need to be taken care of.  The most logical explanation is that elves would be in charge of training and feeding the reindeer, as well as keeping the stables clean.  And once Santa was read to go, Rudolph and company would have to be in top form.  We'd like to imagine that Rudolph might even have a rider that ensures that his nose is polished daily and red and green M & M's are widely available throughout the reindeer compound.
   This would, of course, lead to a minor rivalry with the reindeer.  Since elves are small they wouldn't have too many chances to see things from a higher point of view...the North Pole and the surrounding Arctic terrain are fairly level, in fact.  So since the reindeer could have the ability to fly and get  to guide Santa's sleigh all around the world, the elves might be a little jealous.  They would rarely get to fly with Santa on Christmas Eve...they'd be quite busy monitoring Santa's flight path back at the North Pole.

   With all the hustle and bustle leading up to Christmas, would Santa's elves ever get a break?  Once Christmas is over, there would still be a few more days of work...Santa couldn't be perfect and might mix presents up, so the elves would take care of refunds, returns and exchanges.  By New Year's Day, the elves might be ready for a break, though, and they'd head out on a much-deserved vacation.  Their ideal destination?  Perhaps a Scandinavian country, like Norway or Switzerland ...although it's very cold their during late winter, it's warmer than the North Pole.  Elves might even enjoy staying in ecolodges and taking a dip in the many geothermal hot springs.  Much of elf folklore originates from Scandinavian countries, too, so it makes sense that they would want to visit their homeland.
   We'd like to think that elves also got health insurance...after all, expendig a lot of energy might lead to some clumsy scrapes and scratches.  But health care is expensive.  Could it be that they visit an undisclosed Canadian health insurnace agency??


   Christmas is a festival of family traditions, celebrations, greetings and gifts, as it is world wide.  This is very much in tune with the sentiments of the Indian people, who love traditions and celebrations.  An occasion to get together, pray, feast, and enjoy each other's company, exchange notes with relatives and friends, and be blessed by the elders-these are all a part of any Indian's festival, whether urban or rural, Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Buddhist or Christian.  Moreover, Indians have an affinity for Mother Mary and the infant Jesus, and they love to celebrate Jesus' birthday with the same fervor as they celebrate Lord Krishna's birthday on Janmashtami.  In most of the major cities in India, there is no disparity between a Christian and a non-Christian during Christmas.  Anyone and everyone will attend midnight mass in the local church.  They go to the House of God to pray and for blessings, which probably has more to do with spirituality than religion.
   The churches all over India are decorated vibrantly with poinsettias and other local flowers; and the church interiors come alive with candle light.  The atmosphere becomes magical and mystical, just the right tone for Christmas.  The congregation listens to the service and the songs in silence.  After the mass (which is often conducted in both the local language and English) is over, they line up in all somberness for the host from the mass priest.  Of course, the non-Christians are aware of their limitations in this procedure and respect the rule.


   Some parts of India have a concentration of Christian populations,  like in Goe (Western India), in the Norhteastern states of Mizoram, Arunachal Pradesh, Naglaland and some parts of Assam (Shillong).  Then there are orthodox Christians in the state of Keralain South India, who celebrate Christmas in a strictly religious manner.  The Christians in all these various states have imbibed local Indian customs and traditions into their celebrations, which is evident in the food, drink and merriment.  Despite the different states, languages and customs, the true spirit of Christmas-which is a celebration of humanity, charity, and purity-is the common bond between them all.
   In rural South India, the people light little clay lamps inside and outside their houses, celebrating the advent of the Holy Child.  Since fir trees are a scarcity, they decorate mango and banana trees, which look exactly like true Christmas trees!  Friends and families get together after church and enjoy a hearty Christmas dinner, comprising of the local specialties.

  The Indian cities are more lit up with artificial lighting, more happening in the form of celebrations and parties.  Here, Christmas is more cosmopolitan in nature and the celebrations can sometimes continue from Christmas Eve until the early hours of Christmas day!  People love parties and with the weather being conductive for partying, there is no stopping them.  Most parts of India are going through winter in December, schools are closed and most companies give a Christmas holiday off.  It becomes truly a holiday festival.  Most houses have an artificial Christmas tree decorated with all the trappings and some create the "nativity scene", as a central part of the decorations.  The markets are flooded with the trees and Santa dolls, the whistles, the candy sticks and silver balls and bells.  Nothing is missing except for the snow, which is replaced with lots of cotton wool!

   There are still lots of people, old and young alike, in India who secretly believe in Santa Claus as the harbinger of good times and cheer.  The choir singers singing the Christmas carols, as they go from one street to another before Christmas tolls the bell for goodness!