This years Christmas party was full of good food, stories, and fun. After a wonderful meal, we enjoyed a fun traditional Italian story complete with San Nicolo’ and La Befana in costume. The night continued on with song and dance into the evening. Please check out some of the great photos taken by members at the event.
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!
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.
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
IHSI 25th Anniversary Pictures are available for your viewing at the following link;
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;
The four weeks before Christmas are of part of the Advent season and it was a time of reflection and fasting. Christmas Eve was a time of abstaining from meat and thus fish was served. Especially in southern Italy, the meal evolved into a grand dinner with a tradition of serving seven different types of fish dishes. Many homes got around thi by making variations of a fish soup called cioppino or brodetto, in which seven, or less, types of fish or crustaceans were served in one pot!
For our Pranzo di Natale, Christmas Dinner, we encourage our members to bring as a side dish, a fish entry that may be traditional to your region or one of your choosing. I will bring baccala Triestino, made with muck maligned famous salt cod! Rina Piga will bring Brodetto and polenta. Check on the internet for information about la Festa dei Sette Pesci, and try one of the recipes……it will be fun to try some of these traditional dishes.
See you on the 10th of December. And….email or call me if you wish to volunteer to help with the event or have any question about it.
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