Friday, December 14, 2012

Today I learned about Italian Christmas

Posted by Unknown

Buon Natale, everyone! Today we learn about Christmas traditions in Italy! It's a time for food, family and friends as it is here, but with less commercialism. The colors of the Italian flag (White, red and green) are the traditional Christmas colors as well. Christmas caroling originated in Italy during the 13th century. Saint Francis of Assisi wrote the first Christmas carol, which quickly spread all over Europe. Though Saint Francis wrote in Latin, the first Franciscan friars wrote many Italian Christmas carols. 

The Christmas season begins for Italians 8 days before Christmas and continues until after the Feast of the Epiphany (January 6th). People sing and play instruments at the shrine of the virgin Mary and songs are sung at the homes of carpenters in honor of Saint Joseph. On the 8th day before Christmas, special prayers and church services begin and go on until Christmas Day. On December 23rd, children dressed as shepherds will go around playing songs on shepherd's pipes or giving recitations. They get money which they can use for a Christmas treat in return. 

The Italian word 'ceppo' can refer to two different Christmas traditions depending on who you asked. The first meaning is that of the Yule log which I discussed in detail in the post about Scottish Christmas. The other meaning is that of a decoration also referred to as the Tree of Light (Pictured above). This is always shaped like a tree, with the family's presepio (Nativity) on the bottom tier and the rest decorated with greenery, fruits, nuts and presents. The presepio is symbolic of the gift of God, fruit and nuts are symbolic of the gifts of the Earth and presents are the gifts of men. The top would be decorated with an angel, a star or a pineapple because that represents hospitality. Some families put lights on each shelf, which is how it got the name Tree of Lights. The presepio is the center of most Christmas activities for the Italians. Guests kneel before it and musicians perform in front of it. The figures are very detailed in their faces as well as their clothing. 

Every culture has its own specific Christmas dinner traditions and Italy's sounds just as delicious as the others I have written about thus far. The day before Christmas everyone participates in a partial fast in religious observance where they may not eat meat. Instead they eat fish and really, the menu gets pretty packed in spite of the 'fasting'. It's called the Night of the Seven Fishes (or 9, 11 or 13, depending on the area), so there are seven fish foods and many others. Typical food for the night includes: drowned broccoli rabe, roasted or fried eel and caponata di pesce (fish salad). 

Christmas Day brings another delicious meal, this time made up of baccala (salted and dried cod), vermicelli, baked pasta, capon and turkey. Sweets are very important to an Italian Christmas dinner. Many of these treats originated in convents where nuns made them to mark special religious holidays like Christmas. The nuns would present the treats as gifts when noble families or the mother superior paid a visit. Each convent had its own particular sweet, such as struffoli (Neapolitan honey pastry), cenci (fried pastry ribbons sprinkled with powdered sugar), dried figs, candied almonds, chestnuts and marzipan. There are also the sweet breads like panforte, pandolce and panettone. 

On the night of Epiphany, celebrating the arrival of the Three Magi, Italian children eagerly await a completely different gift-giver from every other place I have read about as of yet. And that is because she is a woman. La Befana is an old hag, hunchbacked and ugly, looking like a typical witch. But she is a kindly woman and she has an interesting story. It is said La Befana was visited by the Magi when they stopped to ask her for directions on their way to find Jesus. They asked if she would like to join them, but she refused, saying she was too busy. Later a shepherd came by her way again inviting her to come along. Again, she refused. When it became dark, she saw the great light in the sky and thought maybe she should have gone along with the Magi and the shepherd. She gathered up some toys from her child who had died and set out to follow the others and find Baby Jesus. She got lost and couldn't find the stable, the child or the Magi. Now every year she goes out in search of the Christ Child, never finding him she instead gives toys to good children and coal to the bad ones. 

I hope everyone enjoyed today's look at another culture. I am finding it very interesting, personally, and hope that you are too. Buon Natale!


Post a Comment