Monday, December 12, 2016


   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.

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