'Christmas' in Italy, 'Natale', is one of the biggest celebrations in the country that lasts for over a month. Starting one week prior to Christmas, celebrations last until the the 6th of January also known as Epiphany Day. Christmas customs in Italy are based on the Christian religion. This is exemplified by the fact that the castle of St. Angelo in Rome fires a canon to proclaim the opening of this Holy season. Italy is also home to plenty of unique traditions. One of them is children writing letters of love to their parents instead of making a wish list for Santa Claus. This note is often kept under the plate of the head of the family (usually father) and read out immediately after the Christmas Eve dinner. The Italians also have adopted some North European practices in which families decorate an evergreen tree and set it up inside their houses.
Italian Christmas Customs
Christmas season in Italy starts with 'Novena' or special prayers. During this period, children go from one house to another and sing carols and poems. Several people perform musical salutes at churches of Virgin Mary. They proceed by chanting hymns in the homes of carpenters to honour St. Joseph.
Children As Shepherds
A week prior to Christmas, children in the neighbourhood dress up as shepherds, sing songs and play pipes. After this, they are a certain amount of money to buy presents. In cities like Rome, the real and original shepherds carry out such performances.
On the 8th of December, on the Day of Immacolata, 'Presepio' (replica of the Holy Family in the stable) is built. This set-up becomes the focus of prayers. Most of the figures in Presepio are hand-carved; guests kneel down in front of it and musicians perform. Arranged in the shape of a triangle, a thin wooden frame supports the tiers of thin shelves. Typically the whole place is decorated with coloured paper, gilt pine cones and coloured pennants. The shelves above the manger consist of fruit, candy and gifts.
Urn Of Fate
The Urn of Fate is a customary Italian tradition where decorative bowls hold numerous gifts for all members of the family. When the household is together, each person draws out their respective present.
Fasting And Christmas Meal
A strict fast is observed 24 hours before Christmas Eve. This is followed by a meal which contains a light Milanese cake. The traditional Italian Christmas dinner is called Cenone and is made up of spaghetti, anchovies, fresh broccoli, fish, fruits, sweets and tossed salads. Other dishes may include lasagna, cannelloni or a timbale of pasta. These are accompanied with cheese, fruits and sweets soaked in red or white wine. Hard liquor such as 'grappa', whiskey or 'torrone', which is obtained with honey, almonds and chocolate, are consumed.
On the noon of Christmas Day, the Pope gives his blessings to a crowd that has assembled at the Vatican Square.
Story Of Befana
In Italy, children wait until the Feast of Epiphany in order to get their presents. The kids hang up stockings on this particular day. As legend has it, an ugly witch called Befana delivers these presents on a broomstick. On the day Baby Jesus was born, she failed to visit the baby on time because she missed a star and lost her way. Therefore, every year, she visits each house in order to check if Baby Jesus is there. It is said that the witch leaves gifts for the good children and charcoal for the bad children in Italy.
Christmas celebrations in Italy are known all over the world. Read about the Italian Christmas customs and the Christmas traditions in Italy.