Christmas is one of the biggest Christian festivals celebrated throughout the world. The entire season boasts of music, singing and dancing. Streets, shops and even homes can be seen decorated with lights, candles and gifts. A season of religious observance, Christmas in Italy is celebrated over a period of three weeks. The entire atmosphere is filled up with anticipation, awaiting the joyous celebration. A special prayer service and church worship begin eight days prior to Christmas. This service is called Novena and it lasts for nine consecutive days. Read on to know more about Italian Christmas celebrations and traditions.
Christmas Celebrations In Italy
In Italy, Christmas is very unique, since it has two origins. As per the first origin, which everyone is familiar with, it celebrates the birth of Christ. The second origin related to "Saturnalia" (a winter solstice celebration), the greatest feast of the ancient Roman Empire. In other words, the festival honors Christ's birth as well as the birth of the "Unconquered Sun". Young children go from house to house reciting Christmas poems, songs and carols in return for money, which they use to purchase gifts and presents.
In Italy, the history of Christmas takes us back to St. Francis of Assisi, who once asked Giovanni Vellita, a Greccio villager, to create a manger. The manger turned out to be very beautiful and in turn, St. Francis performed a Mass before it. Viewing the nativity scene on the Christmas Eve is one of the oldest and most popular traditions in Italy. The cribs or the manger represents figurines of baby Jesus, Mary and Joseph. A canon is fired from Castel St. Agnelo on the Christmas Eve, which marks the holiday season in Italy. A 24-hour fast is observed by Italians, before the Christmas Eve.
On Christmas Eve, a lavish banquet is arranged, with long slender candles lit all around. The supper consists of capitone (dish made with fried eels), spaghetti and anchovies, broccoli, 10 to 20 varieties of fish, tossed salad and fruits. Sweets include torrone (a nougat candy), Panettone (a cake filled up with candied fruit), Panforte (a gingerbread made with hazelnuts, almonds and honey) and Cannoli (pastries filled in with cream cheese). The main ingredients in all these sweets are nuts and almonds. Instead of the Santa Claus, a refreshing female character named La Befana brings gifts in Italy. Shoes are set out by the children on the Christmas Eve, to get them filled up with toys, candies, fruits and gifts. Italians say 'Buone Feste Natalizie', meaning Merry Christmas, to fellow people.