Christmas is the Christian Holiday that each year celebrates the birth of Jesus and it is regarded a “family Holiday”. The major traditions in Italy are the Christmas tree, introduced from northern Europe only at the end of the XIX century and more popular in the north, and the Presepe (Nativity Scene) also known as a manger scene or crib, still very popular in southern Italy especially in Naples.
The Presepe tradition appears to have taken origin in ancient times from the cult of the little statues of the Lari (ancestors) of the Romans and Estruscan populations. In Naples the tradition of Presepe is a must and there are artisans who reproduce the little statues adding each year new figurines so that it is not rare to find the most famous politicians or soccer players or other VIPs reproduced along with the very traditional ones, namely the Holy Family, villagers, the shepherds and the animals.
Santa Claus, Babbo Natale in Italian, is the old man always represented with the white beard that on the night of December the 24th passes through the chimneys and leaves presents for the children under their Christmas tree.
Santa Claus is said to be derived from the figure of Saint Nicholas (San Nicola) a saint especially worshipped in the city of Bari in the Puglia region. In villages and countryside it is quite common to have settings or enactments called “living Nativity scenes” with real people and animals and representation of ancient village life. People can stroll around looking and taking pictures and then have a bite at the “Bancarelle” (stands) selling local finger food and may be have a glass of hot wine to fight the cold.
Traditionally, Christmas tree and Presepe should be prepared on 8th December, date celebrating the Immacolata Concezione (Immaculate Conception) and marking the beginning of celebrations and other popular events called Processioni (Processions), a mix of religious rituals, prayers, music, chants and fireworks during which the statues of the Virgin Mary are taken around the streets of the city or village, usually with a band playing and marking the tempo and people following. Procession are more common in Southern Italy. Here a couple of examples of Procession in two different Sicilian cities:
Termini Imerese http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D_Y7olkTmL4
January, 6th, that marks the last day of Christmas Holiday Season, and is the other traditional Holiday. It is called La Befana, represented as an old woman flying through the sky on a broomstick to deliver small gifts and candies to children on Epiphany Eve (the night of January, 5th). Usually parents help children to hang a sock above the firestove to hold whatever La Befana brings, and if a child has not been very obedient he can easily find among other presents a big lump of coal (quite naturally made of sugar).
Bits and Pieces on Christmas Traditions in Italy by mn – Part 1
Pictures by mn
Videos: All credit to respective owners