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Italy's Christmas Holidays
Are you planning a trip to Italy during the winter holidays or are you just curious about Italian Christmas customs?
These are Italy's main festivities during Christmas:
- 13th of December Santa Lucia
- 25th of December Christmas
- 26th of December Santo Stefano
- 1st of January Capodanno
- 6th of January Epifania
This festivity marks the opening of the Christmas season. Like in Northern Europe also in some regions of Northern Italy , Santa Lucia is in charge of bringing the presents. Santa Lucia is also a Saint revered by Sicilians. Kids write a letter and leave food outside the window to attract Santa Lucia who, riding a donkey, will distribute presents to the well behaved children. St. Lucy (Santa Lucia) was a young Sicilian girl who vowed to live as a virgin in devotion to Christ. Her mother, however, arranged a marriage for her to a pagan suitor. To dissuade her mom by proof of a miracle, Lucy prayed at the tomb of St. Agatha that her mother's hemmhorage would stop. When the miracle happened, her mother agreed to leave aside the topic of marriage.
Lucy's suitor, however, had other plans, and revealed Lucy as a Christian. Authorities went to collect her, planning on forcing her into prostitution -- but they were unable to budge her, even after tying her to a team of oxen. She was then tortured by having her eyes torn out. They'd planned on torturing her by fire, too, but the fires kept going out. She was then killed by being stabbed in the throat with a dagger.
Because of the above, St. Lucy is the patron of those with eye problems, and is often depicted carrying her eyes (often on a plate), being tied to a team of oxen, with St. Agatha, or before her judges. Her name, "Lucia," means "Light," and light plays a role in the customs of her Feast Day. In Italy , torchlight processions and mark her day, and bowls of a cooked wheat porridge.
Vigilia (December 24)
The vigilia is the night before Christmas. The dinner is supposed to be light, or di magro as preparation and purification for the following day. Typically is based on fish instead of meat, it traditionally includes the capitone or eel.
Until the 1960's Gesu' Bambino or Baby Jesus was in charge of distributing the Christmas presents. In recent years Italy conformed to the general icons and Babbo Natale, Santa Claus, became the Italian gift carrier
New Year's Eve
New Year's Eve is the time for champagne and fire works. If you decide to spend the festivities of Christmas in Italy, it is a good idea to stay put at midnight. There will be fireworks everywhere and someone might decide to comply with the ancient tradition of throwing unwanted furnishings out of the windows . After midnight it is mandatory (even if you already had a luscious meal) to eat lentils with cotechino or zampone. The lentils represent money and the more you eat of them, the better. They will bring prosperity to the coming year. The cotechino and zampone are a kind of cooked salame that just happens to be delicious with the lentils.
La Befana is a Christmas witch who brings sweets to the good children on the night before the Epiphany. La Befana is depicted as an old woman, with long skirts and a hood on her head who flies on a broom and delivers sweets to good children and charcoal to the bad ones. This is what a nursery rhyme says about the good witch:
La Befana vien di notte con le scarpe tutte rotte col cappuccio rosso e blu noci e fichi butta giu'.
The Befana comes at night with broken shoes a blue and red hood and delivers nuts and figs.
If Santa Claus lives on the North Pole, Befana has her house in Urbania, a lovely little town in Le Marche region. It celebrates the Befana tradition from the 2nd to the 6th of January.
Every year Urbania celebrates the Befana tradition with a week long festival that includes fireworks, performances in the beautiful historical theater, markets, parades and acrobatic flight of a very athletic befana from the highest tower of the town.
By Elisa Bressan