Don Luigi's Facts About Christmas In Italy

Il Natale in Italia.
Don Luigi Formby

Christmas in ItalyTo say 'Merry Christmas' in Italian, you say 'Buon Natale'.  It actually means 'Good Christmas.'
You will also see and hear 'Buone Feste.' This means 'Good festivities.'

Christmas in ItalyFather Christmas is Babbo Natale.  In Italy, some children write their Christmas letters to Babbo Natale and others write to The Baby Jesus (Gesù Bambino).

If you are writing to Father Christmas, your letter should begin:
Caro Babbo Natale,.......
If you write to The Baby Jesus your letter should begin:
Caro Gesù Bambino,.......

This means that on Christmas Day, some Italian children find presents left by Father Christmas, and others find gifts that have been left by Gesù Bambino.

Christmas in ItalyThe Italian word for Christmas Natale is about 'being born.' The English words 'nativity' and 'natal' come from Natale.

Christmas in ItalyWhen an Italian baby is born around Christmas, it is common to name the child Natale, meaning Christmas, or a name linked to Christmas: Natalia, Natalina.

Christmas in ItalyThe largest Christmas tree in the world can be seen every year in the Italian town of Gubbio.
It is the illuminated shape of a Christmas tree, arranged on a mountain slope. It is 650 metres long and 350 metres wide. Eight and a half kilometres of electric cable are used to light up the shape.
The tree can be seen from very far away. A team of workers called Gli Alberaioli' set up the famous tree every Christmas.

The Christmas tree of Gubbio is lit up on 7 December, just in time for the important Italian celebration of La Festa Dell' Immacolata on 8 December. This date is a celebration in honour of the The Virgin Mary.
It is the date when most Italian families begin to put up their Christmas trees and decorations and is considered to be the start of the festivities.
The Christmas tree has become the symbol of the town of Gubbio. (Photo below.)

Christmas in ItalySaint Francis of Assisi is the patron saint of Italy.
In Italian his name is San Francesco d' Assisi.  He was the person who started the tradition of celebrating Christmas with a crib (un presepe).

How did Saint Francis begin this tradition?
On the night of Christmas Eve, in 1223, in a forest by the town of Greccio
, Francis and his companions prepared a stable with straw and brought a donkey and an
ox to the scene.
Everyone acted as if they were in the Bethlehem stable with the new born Baby Jesus.
The event was so wonderful that it was repeated the following Christmas. Eventually, it became the traditi
on to create a Nativity Scene every Christmas and in countries all over the world!

Christmas in ItalyAn Italian proverb:  Un Natale senza presepe non è un Natale.
Christmas without a
crib is not Christmas.
Il Presepio
Christmas in ItalyIn many areas of Italy, the towns re-create live Nativity scenes in the style of Saint Francis.  These are called 'presepi viventi', meaning 'living cribs'. The people dress up as if they were living in Bethlehem over 2000 years ago. There are processions and enacted scenes.

Christmas in Italy
Some Christmas words -
la stella
- the star
I Re Magi - The Three Kings
- Bethlehem
Maria e Giuseppe - Mary and Joseph
- the donkey
Gesù Bambino - Baby Jesus
i pastori - the shepherds
- the angel
l' albero di Natale - the Christmas tree
il regalo di Natale
- the Christmas present
la calza di Natale - the Christmas stocking
il canto di Natale - the Christmas carol
la neve -
the snow
il pupazzo di neve - the snowman

Christmas in ItalyOn the 16 December begins a special period of nine days called La Novena. The word nove means 'nine.'
On each day, special prayers are said and carols are sung.  The nine-day period ends on Christmas Day.
Sometimes, children dress up as shepherds.

Christmas in Italy
On Christmas Eve, the holiday is officially announced by the firing of a cannon from the very famous building called Il Castel Sant'Angelo, in Rome. On Christmas Eve, la Vigilia di Natale, Italians eat a special evening meal called 'Il Cenone di Natale.'

Christmas in Italy
' In many parts of Italy, the tradition is that the Christmas Eve meal should include fish, but no meat.  In the south of Italy the Christmas Eve dinner is also known as La Festa dei Sette Pesci, meaning: The Feast of the Seven Fish.
As the name suggests, there are seven types of fish and seafood prepared for the occasion.
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Usually, the Christmas Eve meal takes place late at night in order to welcome the beginning of Christmas Day and the birth of The Baby Jesus - Gesù Bambino.

Christmas in ItalyMost families attend Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve. Midnight mass is called La Messa del Gallo.

Christmas in ItalyChristmas Day is Il Giorno di Natale
On Christmas Day, children open the presents received from either The Baby Jesus or Father Christmas.
Many families attend church once again.
After Mass, in the early afternoon, they enjoy another big meal with the family.

Christmas in ItalyAt midday on Christmas Day, the Pope, Il Papa, speaks to thousands of people who gather in St. Peter's Square in the Vatican City. The speech is known as il messaggio.At home, people watch the event on the television. It is vry iportant.

Christmas in ItalySome of the most popular foods to eat in Italy on
Christmas Day are:
jumbo prawns -gamberoni
lobster -aragosta
lamb -agnello
suckling pig -maiale da latte
turkey -tacchino

Oranges and tangerines- arance e mandarini- are the most popular fruit. Oranges grow in Italy and their harvest is at the end of the year - just in time for Christmas.

Artichokes (carciofi) and fennel (finocchio) are popular vegetables as they are in season at this time of year.

Nuts (noci) and chocolate (cioccolato) are also popular at Christmas time.

Lots of Italian sparkling wine is drunk. This wine is called spumante. Prosecco is another Italian sparkling wine that is popular on special occasions.

A special bread-cake called panettone (above) is eaten and given as a gift when visiting friends and relatives throughout the Christmas period.
A finer and softer version of panettone is called Pandoro- this means 'golden bread.'

Christmas in ItalyThe 6 January is an important date. It celebrates the journey of The Three Kings and the day when they found
The Baby Jesus.
This celebration is called L' Epifania and Italian children love it because the Christmas witch (called La Befana
) arrives during the night, flying on her broomstick.
  Children hang up their stockings before they go to bed on the night of 5 January. La Befana enters the houses whilst everyone is asleep and fills the stockings with gifts.
But beware! Children are warned that La Befana fills naughty children's stockings with coal!
Nowadays, very often there will be some black sweets in the stocking - to look like coal!

It is said that the tradition of
La Befana exists because when the Three Kings
(I Re Magi) set out on their journey to find The Baby Jesus there was just one old woman who wanted to accompany them.
IUnfortunately, the old woman changed her mind at the last moment and stayed at home instead.
She soon regretted her decision because The Three Kings found the Baby Jesus and gave Him their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. These gifts are called oro, incenso e mirra in Italian.

In order to apologise for her decision to stay at home, every year she brings gifts to children on the 6 January.
This is the date when the Kings visited the Baby Jesus and gave Him their gifts.

Christmas in ItalyIn Italian 'New Year' is called Capodanno. 
The last day of the year i
s also known as San Silvestro (Saint Sylvester's day.) In Italy, you do not need a clock to tell you when it is midnight because there is always an enormous racket made by beeping car-horns and spumante corks popping.
spumanteItalian New YearBuon anno!

To say Happy New Year you can either say Felice Anno Nuovo (Happy New Year) or Buon Anno (Good Year).

Christmas in ItalyThere is a famous Italian rhyme about Christmas and New Year: -
Natale con i tuoi,
Capodanno con chi vuoi.

Christmas with your family,
New Year with whoever you like.

Christmas in ItalyOn the first day of the new year, Italians believe that to wear the colour red (rosso
) and to eat lentils (lenticchie) will bring good luck. Some people carry a handful of raw lentils in a tissue in their handbag or pocket.

Christmas in Italy
In Italy, you only give Christmas cards to people who live away from home and who you don't see very often.

Christmas in ItalyThe red house-plant known as poinsettia is very popular in Italian buildings and houses at Christmas.
Italians call it La Stella di Natale, meaning the 'Christmas Star.'

Christmas in Italy
In January, in seaside areas, especially in the south of Italy, it is the tradition to collect sea-urchins to eat.
This creature is called 'un riccio di mare', meaning 'a sea hedgehog.'
Sea urchin Italian food

Buon Natale e Felice Anno Nuovo!

Return to Christmas 2017 at Ristorante Don Luigi, Formby.