Some Little Bits of Christmas Cheer

From Penina, the lady who last year brought us the Silent Monks singing the Hallelujah Chorus, now entertains us with…

Tis the season to be silly…

“This year I found another silly video!  It helps to have the words handy–you may have to watch this one more than once to get all the gags” ~ Penina


A Christmas Blooper…Oh Ignazio, no you didn’t…

From Gina:



For something a little more serious.  And since most of us can’t be there…

From Ann (Anncruise):

L’Italo-Americano Newspaper

Ready to jump into a world of old and new traditions? Here’s how Italians celebrate Christmas all over Italy!


You can find bigger Christmas trees and more extravagant decorations in the United States, but nothing looks, tastes, feels or sounds like la stagione natalizia (Christmas season) in Italy. With roots in the “Saturnalia,” the winter solstice rites of ancient Rome, and Christian commemorations of the birth of Gesù Bambino (Baby Jesus), the Italian holidays blend religious and pagan festivities that light up the darkest of nights. 

In Rome and southern Italy, the traditional sound of Christmas is the music of bagpipes and flutes played by shepherds from the region of Abruzzo. According to legend, shepherds entertained the Virgin Mary in Bethlehem with their simple instruments. In the past zampognari (bagpipe players), wearing shaggy sheepskin vests, felt hats and crisscrossed leather leggings,


 came to Rome weeks before Christmas to play in churches. These days the shepherds arrive later and play their ancient instruments in front of the elegant stores along the Via Condotti and other shopping streets near the Spanish Steps. 


Festivities such as fairs and torchlight processions begin weeks before and continue weeks after December 25. Here are the key dates to keep in mind: 

December 6: La festa di San Nicola, the feast of St. Nicholas, the patron saint of shepherds 

December 8: La festa dell’Immacolata, the feast of the Immaculate Conception, a Catholic holy day honoring Mary, the virgin mother of Jesus. 

December 12: La festa di Santa Lucia, the festival of lights encircled  

December 24: La vigilia di Natale, the vigil of Christmas or Christmas eve  

December 25: Natale, which literally translates as “birthday” 

December 26: La festa di Santo Stefano, Saint Stephen’s day 

December 31: La festa di San Silvestro, Saint Sylvester’s day, or New Year’s Eve (la vigilia di Capodanno

January 1: Il Capodanno, literally the top of the year 

January 6: L’Epifania, Epiphany, which marks the arrival of the Magi, the three wise men, who brought gifts to the infant Jesus from afar. 

The Tastes of Christmas 

When I ask Italians what they do most during the Christmas holidays, they say, “Mangiamo” (we eat) — very often and very well, with a huge feast on Christmas Eve, il pranzo di Natale at mid-day on Christmas, and il cenone di Capodanno, another elaborate dinner on New Year’s Eve. In some regions the Christmas feasts must have seven courses (for the seven sacraments); others serve nine (the Holy Trinity times three) or thirteen (for Jesus and his twelve disciples). 

The centerpiece of the Christmas Eve dinner is a specific kind of eel called capitone, a favorite of the ancient Romans that appears in the earliest known cookbook, written by a gourmand known as Apicius. This symbol of life and immortality was traditionally sold alive and wiggling, then beheaded, chopped and dropped into boiling water, spit-roasted, grilled, stewed with white wine and peas, or pickled in vinegar, oil, bay leaves, rosemary and cloves. 

The Christmas day feast usually starts with a rich pasta, such as cappelletti in brodo, little hats stuffed with chopped meats, cheese or pumpkin. By tradition everyone is supposed to eat at least a dozen. Depending on the region of Italy, the main course may be capon, pork or turkey. 

Everyone saves room for the special dolci (sweets) and breads of Christmas. These include: 

*cartellate — curly ribbons of dough that symbolize the sheets on which baby Jesus lay 

*calzoncelli — the pillows for his head 

*latte di mandorla — Virgin’s milk 

*calzone di San Leonardo — shoes of St. Leonard, which represent the cradle *pangiallo — round breads crammed with fruits and nuts (an ancient symbol of fertility) 

*panpepato — peppery and dark bread, somewhat like gingerbread 

*panettone — cake filled with candied fruit, raisins, hazelnuts, honey and almonds. 

*pandoro — sweet yeast bread, usually dusted with vanilla-scented icing sugar.

Christmas Traditions 

The presepio (Christmas crèche) dates back to 1223. Saint Francis, the charismatic friar of Umbria, wanted to bring to life the story of Jesus’s birth. In the little town of Greccio, he placed a manger in some straw and added a living Mary, Joseph, Jesus, shepherds — and actual cattle, sheep and donkeys (who, the story goes, once warmed the infant with their breath). 

You can find presepi, including presepi viventi (living crèches) ranging from simple to stunning, in churches throughout Italy. Some scenes include grottoes, trees, lakes, rivers, angels suspended by wires and reproductions of an entire village or part of a town. Naples is most famous for its presepi, with hundreds of nativity scenes, including many with handmade or antique figures, set up throughout the city. Throughout the year artisans in central Naples create clay figures that are shipped all over the world for Christmas crèches. 

In some parts of Italy, families construct a tree of light, a pyramid-shaped wooden frame several feet high with tiers of shelves decorated with colored banners and gilt pinecones. Often a manger scene occupies the bottom shelf, with fruit, candy and presents above, small candles fastened to the slanted sides and a star or small doll hung at the top.  In Sicily, families make beautiful little altars, hung with green leaves and encircled by oranges, lemons, polished apples, pears, chestnuts, figs and colored eggs. 

Another tradition dates back to pagan rituals that attempted to bring back the heat and light of the sun: the Yule log, which burns during the last 12 nights of the year. It always remains lit when the family goes to Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve because of the legend that Mary stops by to warm her newborn child before the blazing fire. 

Holiday Greetings 

Buon Natale e felice Anno Nuovo — Merry Christmas and Happy New Year 

I migliori auguri di buone feste — Best wishes a happy Holiday Season

I più cari auguri per un sereno Natale e per un anno nuovo ricco di soddisfazioni — Dearest wishes for a peaceful Christmas and a fulfilling new year 

Affettuosissimi auguri per un felice Natale — Most affectionate wishes for a happy Christmas 

I migliori auguri per il Santo Natale e per il 2017 — Best wishes for Holy Christmas and for 2017

Dianne Hales [] is the author of MONA LISA: A Life Discovered [LINK:… and LA BELLA LINGUA: My Love Affair with Italian, the World’s Most Enchanting Language […









17 thoughts on “Some Little Bits of Christmas Cheer”

  1. wow – that is quite an informative entry = Thanks. on a side note – it has been reported by medical researchers that bag pipe players can develop a severe chronic lung infection because the inner lining of the bag stays moist and loaded with bacteria , especially molds. / fungus.

  2. Thank you for the interesting information. Nice to know about chrisrmas in Italy & the food which sounds yummy. woundn’t it be nice if my family bought me a ticket to Italy for Christmas Oh well wishful thinking

  3. Wonderful post! Gee I’d love to go to a Christmas market in Italy. Guess this is just one more reason for us to go back Marie! 🙂

  4. I laughed a lot watching the video of “Twelve days of Christmas”, talented those guys.
    The video of Piero and Gianluca Ignatius is too nice, every time I laugh.
    I did not know that in the Piazza Santa Croce there were the Christmas markets, I always thought it was a habit over Northern Italy.
    For those who have never heard them play, the pipers wear really a Christmas atmosphere.
    How about the cribs? In Naples are really specialists.

    1. Ciao Daniela! È sempre un piacere sentirti! Hi, Daniela! It is always a pleasure to hear from you!

      As an honorary Neapolitan, I can testify that the culture of the Nativity scene (which is what we call the “crib” in the United Kingdom) is everywhere. We have two hand-made ones in our apartment in Naples. I will send a photo to Marie and perhaps she can post it here? They are a real work of art and Naples has a whole street of shops (or workshops) devoted to them. It is called Via San Gregorio Armeno. They make figurines of people in the news each year to add in as background characters. Sadly, we cannot go to Naples this year because my sister-in-law has been ill and we are busy with work here at home. We will make it for Easter 2017.

      On a different topic, we have just watched House Party on Canale 5 with Michelle Hunziger and our guys. What a show! There were lots of laughs and the guys revealed a lot about their personalities. Personally, I thought that their voices were a little tired, at times; and I noticed that Ignazio did not sing his usual part in Nessun Dorma. Piero sang it and the whole piece was cut short. I don’t know whether Myron saw the show. I would love to hear his expert opinion, if he did.

      I have also seen their live performance from Barcelona this evening. They seemed fully recovered and sang beautifully. I am sure that they will be glad to have a well-earned rest over Christmas; but unless they already recorded it, they are due to perform on the Today Show on 23 December. So, they may be back Stateside later this week and will not be home before Christmas Eve! Thank God that they are young and lead a healthy life-style. Why did no one tell me to do that when I was their age?

      1. Bernard
        I believe Ignazio had the flu around the time of the taping of House Party. Also, the Today Show segment for 12-23 has already been taped. I hope they can rest up for awhile. I’m tired just watching them.

      2. I meant to add this link to my post. The guys worked with Michelle Hunziker in Mallorca for German television back in 2011. Michelle is Swiss and speaks fluent German and Italian along with English. She is a very popular presenter on Italian TV.

      3. I remember this video! Thanks for posting it–haven’t seen it in a looong time!

      4. Hello Bernard, even for me it is a pleasure to hear you.
        Speaking of cribs, I have a photo that my husband and I we took during a visit to the Royal Palace in Caserta and we photographed that beautiful royal nativity scene dating back to 1800, enchanting. Bernard, do you think if the boys continue their success, soon will have also their personal statues of the crib, do not you?

        With regard to House Party, it was really a nice program, the boys said they had a great time and I honestly have shown to be really able to do any kind of music artists. Their talented good and also Hunzicher. Somebody To Love of Queen was spectacular.
        I must tell you that air of Nessun Dorma always perform well during the promotion, I believe that the whole will perform only in concert.
        The darkened transmissions up to Christmas are recorded, the boys are back at home and I think up to 31 (concert in Monte Carlo) have no commitments, or at least we hope for them.
        A hug

  5. can I get some information on the Il Volo book wherher it has been translated to english I if has where I can buy it Canada Thanks

    1. Re: Myron’s Musical Notes:
      I would like to get a print of Myron’s lengthy Musical Notes, but my internet stops working when I try to print. I believe it was published on the Il Volo Flight Crew page on Dec. 16, 2016. Would you mind putting it on the Il Volo Flight Crew page again so I can try to print it. It is such a well written article, and Myron’s comments gave me such a warm, happy feeling. I would like to get a reprint so I can reread it and share with some of my fellow Il Volo lovers. Thanks.


      1. Irene, Go to the upper right side of this page . Look under “Topics”. You will see “Myron’s Musical Notes”. Click there. His December post is the first one there. If you scroll down you can read ALL of Myron’s posts.

        If you still can’t print it, let me know, I will email it to you. Thanks for asking.

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