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.