Italian Holiday Traditions, Flickr: bensutherland

Do the Nativity!


Every country has their own unique Christmas traditions, but there is nothing like the way Italians celebrate. Buon Natale or a Merry Christmas is especially enjoyable with long time traditions that are comprised of Northern European influences and those of Western culture.

La Festa di San Nicola: There is more to an Italian Christmas than the actual Christmas holiday. La Festa di San Nicola honors the actual St. Nicholas, the patron saint of shepards on December 7th. Apparently, Italians believe the real St. Nicholas is buried in the city of Bari. This old tradition is only celebrated in a few cities with more modern families celebrating St. Nicholas or Santa Claus.

Ceppo: When you’re decorating for the Christmas season, what comes to mind? You think of a tall Christmas tree, lovely elaborate wreaths and lots of colorful stockings. While most Italians do follow these traditions, it is also customary to decorate the ceppo. This is a pyramid made of wood and is decorated. Candles are placed inside of it and it’s decorated with candy, fruit and Christmas green. Families often make wishes around the Ceppo for good luck.

The Urn of Fate: His sounds rather serious for Christmas time, doesn’t it? Don’t forget that the Christmas season rolls around towards the end of the year. This is the time we reflect on the past year and think of ways to improve in the New Year. The Urn of Fate is a timeless Italian tradition where a large ornamental bowl that holds gifts for family members is passed around. Each member takes a turn to draw a gift until all the presents are distributed.

The Nativity: While Americans will spend time decorating their gorgeous tree, Italians will spend more time on the nativity scene. Often, the family creates a small or large replica to show the importance of Mary and Joseph and the delivery of the baby Jesus born on Christmas day. Displays can go as simple as the main figures, or as elaborate as the entire barn scene with every figurine.  Some families even visit places in the city, often the churches to see their displayed scene and religious art.

The Christmas Feast: There is no doubt that Italians know how to serve up one delicious meal, but even more so on Christmas day. Food is a vital centerpiece in the Italian life and Christmas foods are strictly prepared as the following. On Christmas Eve, no meat is served, only fish and vegetables. You are purifying your body for the holiday and the feast to come on the next day. Christmas lunch includes Pasta in brodo, pasta in broth in the North, but Southerners love their meat-filled tortellini. As for the Christmas feast, expect everything from chicken to turkey and even rabbit. An entire post can be written about the Christmas sweets, like panettone!

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photo: bensutherland

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