Christmas season in Italy extends for three weeks, with the celebrations commencing eight days ahead of the Christmas Eve. Christmas fairs are a common sight during the festival, characterized by amazing fireworks along with holiday music. One can find the artistic Cribs or manger scenes during this time. Small statuettes of Baby Jesus, Mary and others from the Nativity are a part of the scenes. The lights that embellish the streets and the elaborate Nativity scenes everywhere are the charm of Christmas in Italy. Majority of houses have huge effigies of Jesus, Mary or Joseph on Christmas Eve. Christmas is celebrated in a traditional manner in Italy, though it must be admitted that many recent trends have also made their presence. Christmas tree for instance, is becoming popular here. Because Italy was hugely influenced by Paganism, many of its Christmas rituals have a strong connection with the Pagan winter celebrations. Go through the article to know about the customs followed in Italy during Christmas.
Customs, Traditions And Celebrations
Christmas time begins on the first Sunday of Advent, which comes four seasons before Christmas. This period is called 'Novena'. Children during this time go out singing Christmas carols and verses for coins. The families on the other hand set up manger scenes on the first day of 'Novena'. Every morning they gather around the nativity scene, pray and light candles. Children write letters to their parents wishing then a merry Christmas and promise good behavior. They also prepare a wish list of the gifts they want from their parents. These letters are read out loud at the time of dinner by the parents.
Christmas trees are becoming widespread in Italy nowadays. The prime attention is however, on the Nativity scenes. Many families place huge, life-size images of Mary and Joseph. Nativity scenes are inevitable in almost every household in all churches. They also found in some public areas as well.
On Christmas Eve, the observation begins with the appearance of the first star in the evening sky. The families light candles outside their windows to welcome Baby Christ, Mary and Joseph. Then candles are lit around the presepio and the figure of Baby Jesus is passed from person to person, finally placing it back in presepio. Apart from prayers and lighting of candles, the tradition of burning Yule logs is also carried out. This may have come from the old pagan custom when they used to burn logs to drive away the bad spirits or, to provide warmth to the newly born Jesus in the chilly season of winter. Either way, this has become customary. The dinner on Christmas Eve is meatless and comprises of delectable fishes, seafood, vegetables, salads, antipasto, bread, pasta, and sweets. 'Capitone' is a traditional dish in Rome, which is a roasted, baked or fried female eel. The Christmas sweets in Italy are 'panettone' (cake filled with candied fruit) 'torrone' (nougat) 'panforte' (gingerbread) prepared with hazelnuts, honey and almonds. All Christmas sweets in Italy must have almonds and nuts.
Christmas day is dedicated to family, friends and church visit. A sumptuous dinner marks the end of Christmas Day.
New Year's Day is also more or less a family event. On this day exchange of gifts takes place, unlike the rest of the world where gift-giving is a part of Christmas Eve or Day. January 6, or the Three Kings Day is the most awaited day for the children as they will receive gifts La Befana. According to the legend, the Three Wise Men and La Befana were at a house and the later was busy sweeping. The Wise Men wanted to visit Bethlehem to see the newborn Jesus, but La Befana asked them to go ahead as was sweeping and that she will meet them on the way. As she finished sweeping, she hurried with her gifts and magically flew on her broom to catch up with the Wise Men. Being unable to find them, she put those gifts into the shoes of the children who placed then by the fireplaces that night.
Shepherd's Carol is famous carol sung by the Italian families in the Christmas season. The song is the sung in dedication and honor to the shepherds who came on the Advent and went to every house playing their bagpipes and spreading the message of Jesus' birth. In some places, bagpipers dress up as shepherds and play their bagpipes singing the song. In some other places real shepherds are seen performing the same thing.
Italy is among those countries who like to celebrate the Christmas in more religious and conventional manner. Despite the commercialization, majority of the traditions are alive and strictly followed. Almost every country has its own way of observing Christmas and Italy is no exception. From the Advent till the Feast of Epiphany, Italy experiences a period of festivity, holidaying and relaxation.