The Italians know how to do a party! And Christmas in Italy is exactly that. They begin their celebrations 8 days before Christmas Day and it goes on afterwards until around the 6th of January. A full three weeks of merriment. These traditions fall along religious lines and are festive times of prayer, worship, gifts and food!
December 8th begins with the Novena. It is a sacred church service that begins prayer services until Christmas Mass. This is the day of the Immacolata and is noted by the appearances of all the nativities and the Christmas Trees are lit. In the evening families will gather round their nativity and pray and sing songs. Decorations are left up until the 6th of January. It’s very bad luck to leave them up any longer.
There is fun Italian proverb that goes: La vita è come un albero di natale, c’è sempre qualcuno che rompe le palle.
In English that’s: Life is like a Christmas tree, there’s always someone who breaks the balls.
Well, how could you not? The decorations are so shiny! But, when it comes to Christmas Eve, there is very little notice of worldly things. Midnight Mass is the pinnacle of the season. Churches are filled to bursting and families meet in worship. It is a wonderfully long night. The Italians will fast Christmas Eve until the Christmas Feast. Not a turkey in site on this table. Instead Lasagna and different type of pasta including incredible Cannelloni is served. Ask any Italian family but their Mama’s sauce is the best and the feast has many courses. There is roast “beast” to the family’s liking and a variety of cheese and dried fruits. Liquors are a feature and wine soaks many of the Christmas sweets on the table. Pandoro is the Christmas cake and unlike the traditional fruit cake, is palatable! And like any good holiday, chocolate is a favorite. Well, how else would the Dona of the Casa get through all of this preparation? She must have great chocolate.
Gifts are given throughout the season but the main day of gift giving is still January 6th. This is said to be the day the Wise Men visited the Christ child. There is a legend of “La Befana” where, as the story goes, the wise men left Herod the King on their way to see baby Jesus but had to stop and ask an old woman for directions. The wise men invited her to join them but she wouldn’t go. After they left she regretted her choice and until this day flies around from house to house leaving gifts at each home just in case the Christ child is there. The legend mixes with Father Christmas a bit as she is able to slide down chimneys and fill stockings. Well, Hollywood might have something to do with that!
Italy is a wonder of modern style and ideas and then also the traditional, deeply religious aspect of their family units and celebrations. This is everywhere in Italy and is never so apparent as during Christmas time. Let’s all get there someday and party Italian Old World style!
Is a real Italian Christmas on your Bucket List? And who makes the best sauce in your family?