With only 8 days to go, preparations of creating an unforgettable Christmas is in full swing in most homes throughout Italy, especially those in Rome. This past Saturday, Pope Francis held the Vatican’s annual Christmas concert, featuring the likes of American singer-songwriter Patti Smith; and many other events are happening throughout the city over the next several days and beyond that. (Check out our previous post for a listing of some of those events: Winter in Rome).
(Video: He’s Ready for Holidays. Are You?)
Although Christmas is not celebrated by all who visit Rome or live here, the holiday certainly impacts the way in which the Eternal City is experienced during the winter. To help you countdown to the 8 days to the big day, we’re sharing 8 facts about what it means to celebrate Christmas in Rome and the rest of Italy. Feel free to share them with your friends!
Did You Know…
1. The Pope & Christmas Day
If you happen to be in Rome on Christmas Day, you can go to the Vatican at noon to receive a blessing from the Pope?
2. The Saturnalia, An Ancient Winter Festival
In ancient Rome, the most important winter festival to honor Saturn, who was also an agricultural deity, was called Saturnalia? The festival occurred between the 17th and 23rd of December, during the time of Christmas Advent Celebration.
3. Buon Natale!
The word for “Christmas” in Italian, Natale, also means “birthday” in English? Or that December 8th marks the start of Christmas with the celebration of L’Immacolata Concezione (The Immaculate Conception)?
4. Babbo Natale vs. La Befana
Babbo Natale (Father Christmas) is what Santa Claus is called, from whom Italian children request presents? These presents, however, were not brought by Babbo Natale on Christmas Day, but instead by La Befana, a witch. Not only would she bring presents, but she also brought il carbone (coal) for the children who had been naughty. In some places, like Venice, presents are brought by others, such as Santa Lucia or by Gesu’ Bambino (Baby Jesus).
5. The Nativity Scene
Il Presepe, the Nativity scene, holds an important place as a holiday decoration and can be found in both homes, churches and is a popular winter market sale item?
6. The Seven Fishes
Practicing Catholics do not consume meat (and sometimes all dairy products) on Christmas Eve, and observe Christmas as a “day of abstinence”? Instead, they eat fish, such as the famed Feast of the Seven Fishes, which is Southern Italian and popular in Italian-American households.
7. Holiday Sweet Treats!
If you have a sweet tooth, then you should make sure to try any or all of the major holiday desserts, such as torrone (a delicious nougat) and panettone (a really tasty Milanese fruitcake). Mulled wine (vin brule) is also popular as well as Bombardino (a type of eggnog). Want to make your own torrone? Check out this recipe from Delallo: Torrone.
Finally, you make come across some interesting and very different musicians when visiting religious shrines. These musicians are called Zampognari (bagpipers) and Pifferai (flutists). The Zampognari and Pifferai are an important traditional part of the holiday celebrations, and could be seen as the carollers of winter holidays. See for yourself in the video above!
-Article by Diedré Blake
For other interesting facts about the holiday, visit Italian Language Guide!
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