Since there hasn’t been much to tell you about this semester, I figured I would tell you a bit about Italian Christmas. I haven’t been able to spend a full Christmas here, but hopefully next year!
Even though Rome is the site of the Vatican, there is surprisingly little in the way of Christmas decoration and events, or at least less than one would presume. Nativity’s are set up in every church, with a large one at the Spanish Steps. Christmas trees are decorated by large companies such as Louis Vuitton and Fendi. There is even one in Milan decorated completely with dildos…. Lights are put up, but not as excessive as America, there are a few decorations but I would expect more. It could be that I am not staying with a very Italian family, or it could really be they aren’t as excited as the rest of the world.
Food: At this time, oranges and clementines are the number one fruit. I have heard Oranges used to be a christmas present because they were so rare. Apparently this has stuck on in Italy. But there are no smells of cinnamon, gingerbread, apple or pine. In fact real Christmas trees are rare and expensive. They don’t really bake Christmas cookies, but there is the traditional Italian Christmas Cake: Pannetone. I finally bought one of these, I was worried it would be dry and boring like all other Italian attempts at a cake, but it turned out to be very good! All it is really is a large muffin, in look and taste, you can get fruit or chocolate ones. Of course there is also lots and lots of chocolate, mainly with nuts. Candied nuts and figs are also big at this time, at least in the grocery stores….yet I never see anyone eat them.
Traditions: Now, let me explain why there is a witch as this photo, rather than reindeer or Santa Claus etc. Well, Italians have two Christmas Characters, Babbo Natale (Santa Claus) and Befana, the witch who brings presents.
Befana comes on the Feast of the Epiphany, being the Night of January 5th. She comes and fills children’s stockings with sweets and presents, unless they have been bad, then coal and sticks. She also sweeps the house as she visits, sweeping away the problems of the past year. Sticking with the Italian mindset, rather than leaving milk and cookies, families leave wine and small food, sometimes figs and dates.
Befana was the old lady who sheltered the Magi on their way to visit Jesus, she declined to go with them, then later changed her mind and tried to find him, as she never could , she continues to search for Baby Jesus leaving gifts for all the children she encounters.
Her name really just comes from the Italian accent on the word Epifania.
And of course she is also connected to Pre Christian beliefs, she is connected to the Festival of Strenia and Iannus, as at the beginning of each new year, Romans gave presents to one another.
Babbo Natale used to be simply the character of christmas, however due to large commercialization, he is beginning to be the one bringing presents, rather than Befana.
- Befana (elementaryitalianclass.wordpress.com)
- The Santa Claus Tradition Around Europe (familycampingreviews.com)
- Italian Christmas food and traditions: Naples’ Christmas Eve Dinner (Cena della Vigilia di Natale) (tipstogo.wordpress.com)