Italy shares and has inspired many of our Christmas traditions, but there are unique differences that often vary by region. December 8th, a public holiday, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception marks the start of the Christmas season with trees and decorations going up in homes and towns throughout Italy. Elaborate Nativity scenes called Presepi are constructed, especially in Naples. Carols are sung in shepherd costumes, bagpipes are heard and Babbo Natale, (Father Christmas) a.k.a. San Nicolo makes appearances.
Christmas Eve, La Vigilia, families gather to fast or eat a meal, not of meat, but of seafood. For Italian American families, this has morphed into the Feast of the Seven Fishes. Midnight mass is mandatory after which Panettone, a sweet holiday cake with dried fruit, is commonly served. On Christmas Day, Natale, children might open a few gifts from Babbo Natale and elaborate meals are served, starting with Pasta in Brodo, pasta in broth.
Christmas celebrations continue until a big finale on January 6th, the Epiphany. The Epiphany is when the Magi arrived bearing gifts for the baby Jesus and it is on this day that most gifts are opened. However, unique to Italy, gifts are brought the night before by La Befana. La Befana is variously an old woman or good witch that flies about on a broom and it is she who rewards children’s good or bad behavior with gifts or lumps of “coal” black candy placed in stockings.
The Epiphany also marks the start of the new year. Extensive celebrations vary by region but include bonfires or parades intended to leave behind the hardships of the past year and to look optimistically to the next.
From all of us at Trattoria Toscano, we wish you and your family Buona Natale and much success in the coming year!