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Colosseo

How Italians get ready for Christmas: a trip down to memory lane

I remember being a child growing up in a small town in Abruzzo, every year on the 8th of December (Immaculate Conception day) my mum would go up to the attic where we used to keep our special decorations and come down with a smile on her face and some huge heavy boxes. My sister and I would then run to her and start opening the boxes as we didn’t have the slightest idea of their content. We would inevitably find our small and favorite Christmas tree and an uncountable number of colorful and glittering ribbons, Christmas baubles, and Christmas lights and all sorts of decorations you can think of! Every year we would take the decision on the theme color and begin setting the tree and the Presepe in two precise spots of the house. I can still see my little tree shining in the dark living room and the small statues of the presepe welcoming me at the entrance, I can still feel the warm and magic atmosphere of the days before Christmas and that feeling of safety, joy and homely vibration that would comfort and cuddle me.

The tradition of the Christmas tree goes back to the Germany of the sixteenth century. There is a report from Brema of 1570 stating that a tree used to be decorated with apples, cashew nuts, dates and paper flowers.
To this day, the tradition of the Christmas tree is cherished in the European countries of German language even though it is well accepted in the catholic world as well.

Christmas is the most important celebration in Italy that celebrates the birth of Jesus. During this day Italian families get together, cook many delicious things, play games (the Italian way!) and exchange presents.

Children wait till the morning to see if “Babbo Natale” has brought the gifts they specifically asked for in their letters. This is a special time of the year for children and the schools stay closed form the 23rd of December to the 6th of January. During these days there are families who leave for a trip to the mountains, to ski on the Alps, we say that they go for a “settimana bianca” (literally a white week).

Altare della Patria_Roma

The day before Christmas is called “Vigilia” (Christmas’ Eve) and dinner on that day is very special and it’s called “cenone” (big dinner). Depending on the region you come from Christmas’ Eve can be more important and therefore be more celebrated than Christmas day or vice versa. In addition, in some areas of south Italy at midnight on Christmas’ Eve according to tradition a procession is simulated in every house where the little child of the family carries a candle and a small statue of Jesus and everyone else fallows singing “Tu scendi dalle stelle”, “Astro del ciel” or “Venite fideli” (traditional Christmas songs). The procession ends at the arrival at the presepe, the kiss on the small statue and the positioning of the statue in the cradle.

Duomo_Milano

Milan: Cards with wishes and resolutions for the coming year hanging from the Christmas Tree at the train station

There are many traditions and rituals as well as symbols of Christmas in Italy like the “zampone”, the “cotechino”, “l’agrifoglio”, “il vischio” and “la stella di Natale”.
Italians cook so many different and delicious dishes for lunch on Christmas day and bake all sorts of cakes like panettone, pandoro and torrone.

Santa Maria del Fiore_Firenze

Prato della Valle_Padova

Gubbio_The biggest Christmas tree in the World

 

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