La Befana

La Befana is an old lady who brings toys to children in part of Italy on Epiphany night. The Epiphany is when the Three Kings brought gift to baby Jesus. The legend is that on their way to deliver presents to Jesus, The Three King came across La Befana. They asked her to come  with them, but she refused, saying she had too much housework to do. She later realized it had been wrong not to go with. So she ran off with her broom in search of the Kings, bearing her own presents for the baby Jesus. But she never caught up with them. It’s said that La Befana is still searching for the baby Jesus.

In the weeks preceding the Epiphany, the children of Italy are busy writing to La Befana, telling her the presents they would most like to receive. They are on their best behavior because they know that La Befana will leave a lump of coal, instead of sweet and toys, for ill behaved children.

On Epiphany night, January 6, Befana goes around leaving presents for children, in imitation of  the Three Wise men bring gifts to Jesus. Befana looks like a friendly witch, with a mole on her face and tattered clothes. She flies on a broom and goes down chimney to deliver toys for girls and boys. There is a little poem:

La Befana vien di notte
Con le scarpe tutte rotte
Col vestito da romana
Viva viva la Befana!

The Befana comes at night
In worn out shoes
Dressed like a Roman
Long live the Befana!

Natale in Italia – Christmas in Italy

Christmas in Italy is rich in traditions that have, for the most part a religious history, with the celebration centered on the nativity scenes in churches and home. Italian customs and traditions add so much to the beautiful celebration of Christmas in America for families of Italian heritage and help teach the younger family members about the value of their Italian heritage. The Christmas season in Italy includes Festa di San Nicolo’ which is celebrated on December 6th and la Festa di Santa Lucia, Also known as “the Festival of Lights” which is celebrated on December 13th.

Il presepio is the nativity scene featuring the Holy Family, i pastori (shepherds), Re Magi (the Three Kings), and angels that are seen in the homes and churches in Italy during Christmas time. St. Francis of Assisi created the first Presepio.

Presepio vivente: On Christmas Eve many small towns of Italy celebrate with the tradition of a live nativity scene to act out the birth of Jesus just as St. Francis of Assisi did in 123 A.D. complete with live animals, children play the roles of the Holy Family with a newborn baby Jesus. Christmas carols originate in Italy with St. Francis of Assisi. The classic Christmas carol of Italy include Tu scendi dalle stelle, and Caro Gesu’ Bambino.

I zampognari are the shepherds who live in the mountains and come to town at Christmas time to play their traditional bagpipes and sing characteristic shepherd song. They dress in traditional vests, legging and leather trousers.

The meal of la Vigilia di Natale (Christmas Eve) is customarily meatless, popularly known as the meal of seven fishes (for the seven sacraments), it typically consists of fish and seafood, and may include eel, scungilli, calamari (squid), vongole,(clams) and baccala’ (salt cod).

Ceppo is an old Italian Tradition known as the ‘Tree of Lights” also known as the Italian Christmas Pyramid, the ceppo is decorated with candles and holds a small manger, decorations, candy, fruit and greenery.

The Urn of Fate is an old tradition where people in Italy pick out gifts to family members from large Ornamental clay jar.

Capodanno (New Year’s Eve) is welcomed with optimism for the future and aspiration of prosperity and good health. Lentils are traditionally eaten on New Year’s day in Italy as a symbol of good luck and prosperity.

La Befana is the benevolent old woman with magical powers who brings gifts to the children of Italy on the eve of Epiphany on January 6th, to commemorate the visit of the Three Kings. La befana has been known to visit children of Italian heritage in America and around the world.

These are a few customs of Christmas in Italy. We hope you enjoyed reading about them and perhaps will celebrate this special event in your family with Italian style.

IHS Honors our Board Member Carol Faenzi with 2018 Willard C. Heiss Family History and Genealogy Award

An accomplished author and presenter credited with inspiring a new generation of people searching for their ancestry is the recipient of the Indiana Historical Society’s (IHS’s) 2018 Willard C. Heiss Family History/Genealogy Award.

Carol Faenzi of Indianapolis was honored at IHS’s annual Founders Day dinner on Monday, Nov. 5, at the Eugene and Marilyn Glick Indiana History Center in downtown Indianapolis. Each year, IHS presents this award to a family historian for his or her distinguished service and career in Indiana family history.

Faenzi is a third generation Italian-American who has developed a reputation for programs and workshops that inspire others to seek out and preserve their family stories. She is the author of the award-winning book, The Stonecutter’s Aria, which chronicles her ancestors’ careers in Carrara marble and her great-grandfather’s emigration from Italy to Bedford, Indiana, where he worked as a limestone carver.

She has offered a model for how family genealogy could and perhaps ought to be recorded” said Tom Castaldi, Allen County historian.

The popularity of The Stonecutter’s Aria led Faenzi to create and lead biannual guided trips to her ancestral homeland in Italy and, locally, to Indiana limestone country, establishing a unique Italy/Indiana connection.

More information on Faenzi’s books, programs and tours can be found at www.mytuscanaria.com

Follow this link to read the entire press release: Willard Heiss – Faenzi

In Memoriam Italian Heritage Society Member Dr. Jane Fortune by Carol Faenzi

Philanthropist, Journalist and Author, Dr. Jane Fortune passed away on September 23. Most of her life’s work was centered on the research, restoration and exhibition of art by women in Florence, Italy. In 2009, she founded a nonprofit organization, Advancing Women Artists Foundation, dedicated to this mission. Among the important works her Foundation restored were Artemisia Gentileschi’s “ David and Bathsheba.” In 2013, the PBS documentary, Invisible Women: Forgotten Artists of Florence, based on her 2009 book by the same title, was awarded a regional Emmy as Best Documentary in the Historical/Cultural Program Category. These are just a few of many remarkable milestones Jane Fortune succeeded in reaching during he dynamic and passionate life. I was fortunate to have known her and for a few years, helped direct activities of her Foundation in the United States. She was a tireless advocate for these “invisible women artists” and I am happy to say, the work will go on. She left quite a legacy. She told me the thing that meant the most to her, was being recognized as a Citizen of Florence, the city she fell in love with during her college years. The Mayor presented this award to Jane at a ceremony in Florence and with her passing, a Mass was said for her on October 9, at the Basilica of Santa Croce.

Her Foundation: www.advancingwomenartists.org

My Journey to Italian Citizenship, Achieving Dual Citizenship by Italian Americans

Lecture by:  Marlene Adami

One of our most interesting recent cultural lectures was about achieving dual citizenship by Italian Americans. IHSI member Marlene Adami presented the lecture about her personal experiences as she pursued that goal. Our founding member Jerry Roland, an attorney and the former Italian vice-consul for Indiana, was also present to answer questions by those who attended.  Marlene was able to document and charmingly illustrate, step-by-step, that journey in a PowerPoint file. With Marlene’s approval, we now make it available to our members who wish to also make that journey.

Click link below to view powerpoint presentation provide by Marlene;

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