Christmas Traditions in Italy
Christmas is celebrated all around the world but every Country has different traditions and way of doing things. Do you know what is common in Italy??
One of the most important ways of celebrating Christmas in Italy is the Nativity or Presepe. Along with the lights, ornaments, and Christmas trees, i presepi (nativity scenes) are displayed in many churches, squares and almost in every Italian home.Traditionally, only on Christmas Eve baby Jesus will make his appearance into the Nativity scene, as he will be put into his crib.
The city of Naples in Italy is world famous for its nativity scenes: San Gregorio Armeno is a neighborhood which displays every winter dozens of presepi, pieces of art but some also very funny! These are known as ‘Presepe Napoletano’ (meaning Neapolitan Nativity), rich in elements, decorations and details.. The first presepe in Naples is thought to go back to 1025 and was in the Church of S. Maria del presepe (Saint Mary of the Crib), this was even before St. Francis of Assisi had made cribs very popular!
NO MEAT ON CHRISTMAS EVE
To prepare and purify their bodies for Christmas Day, Italians avoid meat on la Vigilia (Christmas Eve). Although the idea is to eat lean, most indulge on multiple courses of fish… sometimes as many as seven!! People still spend la Vagilia eating away, fromantipasto to desserts like Panettone, Torrone, Pandoro, nuts, dried fruit…you name it!
BUT THEN THE NEXT DAY…
After the “light” Christmas Eve dinner, on Christmas Day, Italians invite their family and friends for a large lunch that usually goes on all day. Many save up to have the most lavish celebration possible, serving up traditional dishes like pasta o tortellini in brodo (pasta or tortellini in broth), roasts and traditional desserts like the ones mentioned above.
THE FESTIVITIES DON’T END ON DECEMBER 25
Don’t forget that eating doesn’t stop on Christmas day in Italy: December 26 is a holiday as well, Santo Stefano, and often families get together again.
The official end of the Christmas season, though, isn’t until January 6—the Day of the Epiphany, and the twelfth day of Christmas. On the eve of the Epiphany, families usually prepare a large dinner to mark the end of the holiday season; children put up a stocking which will be filled by the Befana (an old good witch that travels on a broom!) with candy, chocolate, small gifts or coal (usually made of black sugar), depending on if they were naughty or nice. After January 6, you’ll see Christmas markets close and decorations start to come down.
Gifts are commonly exchanged on Christmas Day after lunch or during Christmas Eve’s dinner. Kids will wait until Christmas day morning to open gifts brought by Santa! But everything depends on the region: some smaller, northern Italian cities believe that the blind Saint Lucia brings gifts for children on December 13, so they open them that morning. Other families may wait until January 6. The Epiphany is when la befana drops off presents. La befana is a particular tradition in Rome and Bologna, where the main sqaure often host fun activities for children; in Venice, locals believe that la befana arrives every year by boat!