A Catholic country, also having the Pope residing here, brings Christmas very close to home. Traditions live long lives in Italian households. I was speaking to my English students about the traditions they celebrate in their families. I found out that most have traditional family events that occur on December 25th as opposed to my family in which we celebrate both on the 24th and 25th of December. There is usually a big Christmas lunch that lasts all afternoon on December 25th in Italian homes. In the south more often the gifts of the season are shared through the food and cuisine. Gifts and presents are given as well not something big but more of a token of love. I conversed with one of my friends, who said he will only give his parents a small gift such as a bottle of wine. Although when I talk to friends with children, they have their hands tied in buying a huge amount of toys for their little ones.
Credits: Katie Greenaway
Here are some Christmas traditions that I know is still practiced today in Italy:
December 8th- L'Immacolata Concezione-Celebration of the Immaculate conception. This day is a holiday each year. Usually Italian families put up their Christmas trees, decorations and the presepe (nativity scence) on this day.
December 24th-La Viglia di Natale-Christmas Eve. In the south, families celebrate with a big dinner. Usually meat isn't eaten on this day so instead being in the south and near the sea they will prepare a enormous fish dinner. From what one of my students said,who is from Naples, she eats spaghetti alle vongole. One of my all time favorites! For dessert, panettone, a type of sweet cake with fruit, is a popular selection. Panettone is sold all over the world now. In Italy, specially is a common dessert for Christmas.
December 25th-Children, as they wake up on Christmas morning, they are ecstatic to see what Babbo Natale (Father Christmas) has left for them under the tree. Depending from region to region, families exchange gifts either on the 24th or the 25th.
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December 26th-La Festa di Santo Stefano-St. Stephen's Day celebrates the announcement of the birth of Jesus and the arrival of the Three Wise Men. It is a public holiday as well. Italian festivities of the holiday usually extend to the December 6th(La Festa dell'Epifania).
December 31st-La Festa di San Silvestro- New Year's Eve. Food will play a big role in this celebration as well. Most meals consists of local specialties of the region and huge firework performances all over the town. Spumante and/or prosecco, Italian sparkling wine, will be the token drink to ring in the new year. A superstition says that if you wear red underwear on this night it will bring your good luck for the new year.
January 1st-Il Capodanno-New Year's Day.
January 6th-La Festa dell'Epifania-The Epiphany. La Befana is a sweet old witch that brings goodies and candies to good boys and girls. The legend of La Befana says that the Three Wise Men stopped at her hut to ask directions and invite her on their journey to Bethlehem. A shepherd asked her to join him if only to pay respect to the Christ Child, she refused and when the stars illuminated the sky she saw the great light. She regreted not going with the Three Wise Men, so she gathered toys and goodies from her own child that had passed away and went a journey herself to find the kings and the shepherd. But alas she was unsuccessful in finding the stable where the child was. Now, she looks for the Christ Child each year. Since she is unable to find him, she leaves goodies and candies for the good children of Italy and coal for the bad ones.