Monday, December 26, 2011

Christmas in Italy

Christmas in Italy has already changed a lot during the years. Many years ago there was no Christmas tree tradition, and a nativity scene was the only thing that was done. For some reasons, maybe the pro-American feelings that undoubtedly pervade the whole country, or maybe because is an easier decoration to prepare, the tree has become one of the most poignant Christmas images in Italian peninsula. Nowadays in Italy you most often find a nativity scene besides a Christmas tree.

Spending Christmas in Italy means to discover many traditions of the past, mostly tied to the countryside and the Catholic religion. These Holidays are paced by the various religious and pagan festivities that chase each other and come to a conclusion with Epiphany on January 6. Today is Saint Stephen, an it's a holiday. New year's eve and January 1st are also holidays. The greater majority go to work during the days in between these festive days, however some take vacation days to have a long weekend. Schools in Italy close on December 23 and open again on the first school day after January 6.

Epiphany is a small Christmas for children. It is a festivity tied to when the three wise kings arrived to Bethlehem to adore the newborn Jesus. Indeed epiphany means revelation. In this day Italians hang a stocking at the fireplace and await the arrival of Befana to fill them up with candies and small presents for good kids, and charcoal for bad kids. Befana is the name of the old and ugly lady that comes flying on a broomstick to distribute presents to kids. She embodies this festivity since the legend tells that when the wise kings knocked on her door asking for the direction to Bethlehem, she helped them, but refused to join their journey as she was busy with home chores. She later regretted it, and after gathering some presents for baby Jesus she immediately started chasing after the wise kings. But no matter how hard she looked for them, she was unable to find them. So she decided to look for baby Jesus in each house where there was a new born, and leave a present to each one in case that was going to be the one.

Italians are also very traditional, and never fail to celebrate Christmas with their family. They have a saying "Natale coi tuoi, Pasqua con chi vuoi", Christmas with your family, Easter with whomever, which gives the sense how this festivity is much more felt than Easter. Sometimes it is hard to stay with your and your spouse's family. Therefore Italians employ Christmas Eve as a good occasion to stay with one side of the family, spend Midnight there, which is officially Christmas, then the next day is spent with th eother side of the family.

There is little moving around during these festivities, as the majority stay at home. Some use these days as a holiday period, visiting the Alps or seaside localities with thermal spots such as Ischia. But this is not typically Italian. Therefore if you want to visit Italy after Christmas day, you will find quiet cities, especially on the 26. The days approaching New Year's Eve are a little busier, but calm is soon restored on January first until the Befana.

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