It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas...

December 17, 2014
Christmas in Milan Italy   

Christmas in Italy

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas…

as Christmas is known in Italy, tends to be a family-centric holiday, a time to stay at home with loved ones and celebrate…and eat! Here is a run down of how Italians traditionally celebrate this magical time of year…

December 8 officially kicks off the Christmas season with the Feast of the Immaculate Conception (Italian Festa dell’Immacolata Concezione) and a national holiday throughout Italy (meaning lots of offices and businesses are closed). This is when Christmas decorations, including the presepe (Nativity scene) and the Christmas tree, are put up both on streets, in piazzas and outside major landmarks such as the Colosseum in Rome and il Duomo in Milan as well as inside Italian homes. It is also when many Christmas markets start.

In the eight days before Christmas, known as the Novena, carolers sing traditional songs and spread the Christmas spirit. If you are in Italy over this period, look out for the zampognari, or bagpipe players from the Abruzzi mountains who travel to Rome, southern Italy and Sicily to play their merry folklore carols. Christmas is certainly in the cold winter air …and hopefully some snow flakes too!

December 13 is Saint Lucy’s Day (Giorno di Santa Lucia), supposedly the shortest day of the year, is celebrated as a Catholic holiday in Sicily and Northern regions of Italy. Evening candlelight processions called the parade of light are conducted and followed by the Feast of St. Lucy.

Christmas Eve is celebrated in Italy with a strong emphasis on the Christian meaning of the holiday and with the widespread tradition of setting up the presepe, often a hand crafted nativity scene which is a tradition initiated by Saint Francis of Assisi. 
It is common to attend Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve across Italy (some even head to the Vatican in Rome for Mass with the Pope!) and it is the custom not to eat meat. Christmas Eve dinner traditionally consists of seafood, with the Feast of Seven Fishes, followed by typical Italian Christmas sweets, such as pandoro, panettone, torrone, panforte, struffoli (small deep fried balls of dough, crunchy on the outside and light inside, mixed with honey and other sweet ingredients ), caggionetti (chocolate, chestnuts, almonds, rum, lemon zest, cinnamon & honey filling within a paper-thin white wine fried ravioli casing), Monte Bianco  (a dessert of puréed, sweetened chestnuts topped with whipped cream derived from Mont Blanc, the famous snow-capped mountain) and others, depending on the regional cuisine.

A lovely Italian tradition, and surely one that parents would like to adopt world wide, instead of writing letters (or emails) to Santa Claus asking for presents, children write letters to tell their parents how much they love them. The letter is placed under Dad’s plate and read after Christmas Eve dinner to the delight of parents across Italy. A true gift of love at Christmas time…

Christmas Day on the 25th is celebrated with family and friends and more eating - lunch of different types of meat dishes, cheese and local sweets.

‘Tis the season for giving…

Traditions regarding the exchanging of gifts vary from region to region, taking place either on Christmas Eve or on Christmas Day. Presents for children are left underneath the Christmas tree either by Santa Claus (called Babbo Natale for Father Christmas) or, according to older traditions, by Baby Jesus himself. In some regions children receive gifts earlier (at St. Lucy's Day) or later (on Epiphany).

Like Australia, December 26 (known as St. Stephen's Day/Giorno di Santo Stefano), is also a public holiday in Italy. Festivities extend to the end of the year and to Epiphany on January 6. 

Epifania is a Christian feast celebrating the manifestation of the divine nature of Jesus to the Gentiles as represented by the Magi (or Wise men).  On the eve of Epiphany, it is believed la Befana the kindly old witch, rides the night skies on a broomstick, bringing good children gifts and sweets, and bad ones a piece of coal (nowadays known as carbone dolce, a sweet rock candy that looks like coal). 

In other areas it is the Three Wise Men who bring gifts, especially oranges symbolizing gold, and chocolate symbolizing their kisses to good children (think ‘Baci’ meaning ‘kisses’). In some regions, most famously in Milan, the custom of the "Corteo dei Re Magi" (Three Kings Procession) is celebrated with a parade welcoming the Wise Men, and the passing out of (more) sweets. In other places, such as Treviso the day is celebrated with bonfires, the sparks of which are said to predict the future of the new year.

Christmas decorations are usually taken down at this time. It is the end of the Christmas season and the old year… and the beginning of a new one. 

From all at CIT Holidays, we wish you
“Buon Natale e felice anno nuovo!”


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