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  • Christmas Traditions

    La Befana
    This holiday marks the end of the Christmas season and it is one of Italy's oldest and most celebrated legends.

    Cavalcade of the Magi
    January 6th marks the 12th day of Christmas and it is called the Epiphany. To commemorate this special day the city of Florence, Italy hosts a pageant called the Cavalcata dei Magi (Cavalcade of the Magi). This is the biggest street procession in Florence and there are over 700 participants who dress in medieval costumes.

    Celebrate the Epiphany Italian Style Our Paesani -
    Italians, like many other cultures around the world, celebrate Little Christmas or the Epiphany with as much verve as they do Dec. 25. In fact, when my father was growing up in Italy in the 1950s, he would wait with much more anticipation for Epifania, which comes on Jan. 6 and marks the arrival of the three wise men or magi at Baby Jesus' manger. After all, this is when my papa' would put out a stocking (one of his mom's actual stockings and not the fancy ones we have) and wake up to find gifts – from the Italian Christmas witch, La Befana, inside. If you are not living in Italy but would like to incorporate Epifania into your traditions, here are 4 ways to celebrate.

    Christmas: Commercialized Una Mamma Italiana -
    This time of year can get pretty hectic. Everyone's getting ready for Christmas - the most wonderful time of the year! 'Tis the season to hit the malls and spend all the money you don't have on outlandish, impressive Christmas gifts (half of them for people you don't even care about). Am I right? Well, if I am, it's only a result of the commercialization of this joyous holiday.

    Christmas Eve Dinner
    Join me as I uncover the significance behind the number of fish dishes prepared for dinner.

    Christmas in Italy Our Paesani -
    I cried for days the first time I went to Italy for Christmas. I was 11, and we had to convince my little sister Rosaria that Santa Claus would be able to find us in Ischia, a small island off the coast of Naples. There were no lights on the houses, and we were the only ones on the block with a Christmas tree. It all seemed so tragic. Italians might not go all out with the decorations, but the holiday spirit is alive and well in the Motherland.

    Family Traditions Burn Brightly With The Lighting of the Christmas Tree Italian Memories -
    The one change I've noticed most this year is the scarcity of Christmas tree lots. Today, most folks just pick up a tree at the local pharmacy, department or grocery store. Things were different when I was a kid. You couldn't throw a stone this time of year without it landing near a vacant lot that had been converted for the holidays into a forest of freshly cut pines, green trees in all sizes, shapes and heights, sold in a variety of prices from 50 cents to 75 cents a foot.

    Find Faith in Italian Nativity Scenes Our Paesani -
    Clearly, I need something to believe in, and I'm missing the holiday season in Italy, which is as much a celebration of hope as it is Jesus' birthday. And just what is the ultimate symbol of Italy's bright-eyed optimism at this time of year? The presepio or nativity scene. Others have their Christmas trees, but nothing compares to the masterpiece crèches for which Italians are famous.

    Have an Italian Christmas Our Paesani -
    Christmas has arrived. But it's not too late to make your Christmas an Italian one. Here are some last-minute tips for doing just that.

    I'm a Believer! Stories of the Italian Christmas Witch Our Paesani -
    Italy is such a magical place for children that they receive gifts from not one but two mythical figures during the holiday season. You see in Italy, the holiday season really lasts through Jan. 6, or the Epiphany, and on that day La Befana, known to some as the Christmas witch, brings goodies to all of Italy's children.

    The Italian Ceppo
    The ceppo is a yule log burned in the fireplace or a pyramid shaped structure made of wood and often called the tree of light. Just what is the significance behind this Italian tradition?

    Join Italy's Epiphany Party Our Paesani -
    Italians are always looking for more vacation time. It's no wonder that their holiday season lasts one week longer than it does for those of us in the United States. They are off until January 6, which marks L'Epifania or the Epiphany, which is the celebration of when the three wise men or magi arrived to see the baby Jesus. Leave it to Italians to take things up a notch. Commemorating this encounter isn't enough. They had to make up an interesting story and bring a witch into the mix. Enter La Befana.

    The Legend of the Christmas Rose
    A story of a little child who follows the shepherds as they search for the new-born king. When they finally arrive she realizes that she has no gift to offer him.

    Lighting of the Christmas Tree
    One of the things I love about Italy is the different and unique traditions they do throughout the year and in particular during various holidays. One tradition that takes place during the Christmas season is the lighting of the Christmas tree in the city of Gubbio, Umbria.

    Manarola's Illuminated Presepe
    An enduring tradition that has been a part of the Christmas season in Italy is the beautiful nativity scenes (presepio) that decorate homes and towns throughout Italy. Over the years these scenes have expanded to include more than just the Holy Family and the three Wise Men. They can be elaborate works of art that depict entire villages. Of all the scenes throughout Italy the one in Manarola stands out and can be seen for miles.

    Pandolce Genovese (u pandùce in Genoese dialect) is a sweet bread typically made during Christmas and other festive occasions, but over the centuries it has become a dessert that can be enjoyed anytime.

    During the Christmas season panettone is a staple that you will find in any Italian home. Panettone originated in the town of Milan and is a symbol of the city.

    Il Presepe
    One of the most incredible scenes in Italy during Christmas time is the beautiful nativity scenes that are on display in every town.

    The Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree
    Each year in the heart of New York City people gather to witness an amazing spectacle that has become an enduring symbol of the Christmas season. This tradition got started by a group of Italian American workers.

    The Tale of La Befana Italian Memories -
    Traditionally, the Epiphany or Little Christmas is a holiday for children in Italy. La Befana goes around on the eve of the Epiphany giving gifts to good kids and lumps of coal to the bad ones.

    A Tale of the Epiphany
    This legend of the Epiphany tells us of a selfish man who realizes the importance of giving to those in need instead of always thinking of himself.

    Tu Scendi dalle Stelle
    Tu scendi dalle stelle is Italy's most beloved Christmas song that can be heard throughout Italy during the holiday season. This song dates back to the 18th century and was composed by Saint Alphonsus Liguori.

    'Tis the Season for Tombola Our Paesani -
    Italy is all fun and games during the holiday season. The country's decorations are far more subdued and serious than those you might see in the United States. It's all nativity scenes and gold stars with few trees and lights. But in homes across the country, the people come together to laugh, eat, drink - and gamble. It's not what you think. Sometimes they're playing for beans or one or two euro (which are coins in Italy). They are playing Tombola or the Italian version of bingo.

    12 Days of Christmas for Italians Our Paesani -
    While we Americans are toiling at the office or wherever it is that we work during the holiday season, Italians are taking it easy. Most of them have off from Christmas Eve until the Epiphany on Jan. 6. Much of Europe celebrates the holiday through the "12 Days of Christmas." The song isn't just about some make-believe, fantasy world where the holidays lasts and lasts. With that in mind, I set out to write my own 12 days of Christmas for Italians.

    Arriva Natale
    Do a search for Natale and you will get a list of classic Christmas poems in Italian. Some titles include: Christmas Is Coming!, Santa's Reindeer, Dear Santa and A Visit to Grandma's.

    Christmas Eve Fish Dinner
    This Sicilian tradition includes seven different fishes for dinner.

    Feast of the Seven Fishes
    This book is both a graphic novel & romantic comedy featuring an Italian-American family celebrating Christmas Eve as well as an accompanying cookbook section.

    How to Host a Feast of the Seven Fishes Dinner
    Whether you're Italian through and through or simply love seafood (and holidays), use these ideas to host an unforgettable Feast of the Seven Fishes on Christmas Eve.

    The Legend of La Befana
    Purchase a DVD or VHS tape of this timeless Italian tale. It also includes a booklet in both English and Italian.

    Natale: Christmas tradition in Italy
    Maria Lamkin writes about some of the typical traditions that take place during this holiday.


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