Tag Archives: The Bolognese Nativity Scene

Christmas with Our Italian Family By Susan

Every Saturday morning, I sit at my desk and think about what I will write about this week! Since we’re closing in on Christmas, I thought maybe I should start a little earlier this week!
My first thought was last year’s Christmas message was amazing! Not because I wrote it but because of the people who helped me write it! Two wonderful friends! Our special little nonna, Maura Pucci and Giovanni Granaro local historian and my go to man in Naro. Over ten thousand fans responded to the story!  It gave us a look at the different Italian traditions and an insight into our guy’s Christmas. So, I thought maybe I should republish the article but with a few new and interesting facts added.
But before we relive the story let me tell you what the story told us about each of the guys. It showed their different traditions based on the region they came from but, they do have one tradition in common and they share that tradition with Italians all over the world. It is the Feast of Seven Fishes that is celebrated on Christmas Eve. In Italy, the meal is known as Festa Dei Sette Pesci (the Feast of Seven Fish), or, more simply, La Vigilia. Now let me add some say the meal should include twelve fish. Why? Seven fish for the seven days it took to create the world or twelve fish for the twelve apostles. The number of fish is not as important as the feast, or La Vigilia, itself.  This is a tradition that goes back to ancient times in the Church. Before a great feast day, it was important to fast to prepare for the feast. So, everyone abstained from meat, thus everyone ate fish.
In the early 1900’s when Italian immigrants came to America, they brought this tradition with them. This allowed them to rekindle the old country’s Christmas Eve tradition so they would feel close to their homes and the families they left behind. Today, it’s considered one of the oldest Italian traditions because most Italians still keep the tradition! I certainly do!

So, without further ado, let’s join Piero, Ignazio and Gianluca for Christmas with Our Italian Family
Yes, Piero, Ignazio and Gianluca are our family! Why do I call them family? We’re their fans, yes but, we are more than fans. We certainly do all the things that fans do but it goes deeper than that because our guys are different than any other entertainers. The difference is the guys think of us as their extended family because they grew up with us. They spend more time with us than they do with their families. And they show us their love in everything they do. Think of how they treat us! When you meet them, they embrace you. Most entertainers just want your praise and accolades. Not our guys! They want to know about us! They ask about our lives and our families. They listen to us and do things to please us. And think about how you spent your last twenty-one months listening to their music and feeling secure with every song! So, what is family? Family are the people who are there when you need them. When you’re sad you can always feel their love and their encouragement! Family is not just blood it’s the people who are there for us!
So, let’s take a look at how our Italian family spends their Christmas.
The Christmas season starts in Italy on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception of Mary which is also a holiday in Italy. This is the day that many Italians put up their Christmas trees and the cities light up their streets with colored lights. Why? Because Mary is the mother of the Light, Jesus! But there are other traditions that are celebrated on this day!
Let’s go to Naro, Piero’s city, to see how they open the Christmas season.
Every year, on the 7th, 8th and 9th of December, every inhabitant in Naro stocks up on muffuletti. Muffuletti is a bread which is stuffed with meat and vegetables. Some people go to their local baker to buy them, and some people prepare them at home. The tradition is linked to religion. Naro’s sandwiches are blessed and distributed in Churches at the end of the Mass on the feast day of the Immaculate Conception. The bakers donate the muffuletti to the Churches as a gesture of generosity towards their fellow countrymen but, above all, of love towards “a bedda matri ‘Mmaculata”, the Most Holy Immaculate.
During the month of December, the Christmas markets are held in Naro. The Fair is set up inside the cloister of the Town Hall. Many people go to the Franciscan cloister where, every evening, to the delight of the children, there is a special snowfall that whitens the baroque courtyard. On the final evening there is a concert of Sicilian folk music, and an award is given for the best photo taken at the large Christmas tree in Piazza Garibaldi.
During this magical period the streets are colored by many Christmas lights, and everyone visits the living nativity scene of Borgo Castello. There is Mass on Christmas Eve and between hugs, kisses and best wishes there are a thousand good intentions. And then, on Christmas day, the family gathers together for a dinner laden with many local delicacies.
And what would Piero do on Christmas day? Most likely, he will walk around Naro and visit some older people and his friends. He certainly would have decorated his home so I’m sure he will make a video for all of us to see. He will most likely sing at the Christmas Eve or Christmas Day Mass. And I’m sure he will spend time singing with his grandfather, Pietro. Most importantly, he will spend the day with his family!
Christmas in Bologna! How does Ignazio celebrate Christmas?
Unlike Piero and Gianluca, Ignazio and his family live in a big city and like cities in America there are many events.
The Christmas tradition in Bologna has deep roots. The Bolognese Nativity Scene (Presepe) goes back to the Middle Ages. The tradition of the Presepe dates back to the 13th century and one of the oldest Presepe in the world is preserved in Bologna. What makes the Bolognese Nativity different? It is life size and includes clothes that are different from the traditional Neapolitan style. They are dressed in a medieval style. In Porretta Terme in the Emilian Apennines another Presepe which is one of the oldest Presepe in the world is kept in the church of Capugnano.
I’m sure Ignazio will visit the Christmas Tree in Piazza Nettuno. It is a Bolognese tradition. The beautiful tree is a welcoming and bright place to meet friends and feel the warmth of Christmas.
So, what will Ignazio’s family eat on Christmas? I’m sure on Christmas Eve there will be fish on the table. This is the tradition in every Italian house on “La Vigilia,” Christmas Eve. On Christmas Day, there is another tradition. Lunch is the main meal and Pasta in brodo (pasta in broth) will certainly be served. In Bologna, it’s all about meat-filled tortellini in capon broth. These, small, Tortellini, are filled with a mixture of meat, mortadella and Parmigiano Reggiano cheese but you will find in Bologna every family has its secret ingredient for them. You’ll recall in an interview Ignazio mentioned his family buying Tortellini every Sunday.
The soup will most likely be followed by a roast and the meal will end with a traditional dessert like Certosino (or Pan speziale) which is made with almonds, pine nuts, dark chocolate and candied fruits. The recipe has its origin in the Middle Ages where Certosino was produced by pharmacists and later by Certosini Friars. Certosino is very popular in Bologna.
I know the part of the meal that Ignazio will like the best is the dessert! A dessert he will share with his family to celebrate Christmas Day!
There is one Sicilian tradition that I did not talk about last year and since we have two Sicilian men in the group, I think it is important to include it in the article.
For many in Sicily, the Christmas season starts on the Feast of Santa Lucia. In some regions of Sicily, the feast day is celebrated with Cuccia. The word itself is Sicilian. Cuccìa is typically made with wheat berries, ricotta and sugar. How did this tradition come to be?
In the winter of 1646, Sicily was undergoing a terrible famine. People were dying of hunger after a massive crop failure. The people of Palermo did the only thing they could in the circumstances: they prayed. And then on the morning of December 13th a ship full of grain arrived in Palermo harbor with enough grain to feed the whole city. Rather than wait to have the grain milled into flour to make bread, the hungry people boiled and ate the grain to satisfy their hunger and save their lives. The people were convinced that Santa Lucia (St. Lucy), Sicily’s most important saint had saved the city, since the grain arrived on her feast day.
I’m not sure if Piero and Ignazio’s family make Cuccia or eat it but I’m sure they know the tradition.
So, now let’s talk about Gianluca’s Christmas!
A Montepagano tradition is the Nativity scene. At the end of the last century a famous living Nativity play was started in Montepagano which is a real theatrical performance, with a director and a narrator.
In the Abruzzi region, there is a tradition that bagpipers, so called zampognari come into the towns and play their flutes and bagpipes for the people. They symbolize the shepherds who come in search of the newborn baby, Jesus. The bagpipers were once shepherds, today they are musicians who walk the streets of the cities, playing Christmas music. Often, they are in pairs, and one plays the zampognari (bagpipe) and the other the ciaramella (which is similar to a small piccolo).
For certain Gianluca will celebrate December 24th, Christmas Eve with a meal of fish including shellfish because he lives by the sea. As far as food traditions are concerned, on Christmas Day, the typical dish of the whole region of Abruzzo is spaghetti alla chitarra (which is prepared on a particular instrument called a guitar, because it is made of wood with metal strings) but most likely Gianluca will eat Lasagna. The second course will be arrosticini, which are pieces of meat, traditionally lamb, strung on long sticks, similar to a kebab. And for dessert, they will most likely have the traditional Christmas cake, Panettone.
Gianluca will surely spend Christmas Eve and Christmas Day with his family including his Grandpa Ernesto!
As you know my mother is Abruzzese and I must say, Gianluca’s Christmas is very similar my Christmas.

If you’re wondering where Santa Claus is, in Italy he is known as “Babbo Natale,” Father Christmas, who brings presents to children on Christmas Eve but, in true Italian tradition, gifts were exchanged on January 6th the day of Epiphany when La Befana comes to Italian homes in search of the Christ Child and leaves gifts for the children. This is a tradition that is celebrated in the central regions of Italy.  La Befana is an old woman, with a hooked nose, badly dressed, with a handkerchief on her head, grumpy but good, she is not a witch. On January 6th, riding through the sky, flying on a broom, La Befana lands on the roofs, enters the houses from the chimneys and descends from the fireplace, leaving gifts and sweets in the big socks that the children place in front of the fireplace. If they were good, they get sweets. If they were bad, she leaves coal in the form of a sweet black candy. I’m sure there will be many sweets for Piero, Ignazio and Gianluca! No coal for our guys!
I would like to mention an important member of Il Volo’s family. Michele Torpedine!  His family is originally from the region of Puglia. He moved to Bologna when he was twelve years old. So, he will celebrate Christmas with his family and the celebration would be similar to Ignazio’s!
Again, I would like to thank the two people who contributed to this Christmas story. Maura Pucci and Giovanni Granaro. Their knowledge of the regions of Montepagano and Naro and the different Christmas traditions made this story come to life!
         Susan                                          Daniela                          Pat
In closing, I would like to thank my team at Flight Crew! The two ladies who make all my stories come to life! Daniela Perani (a/k/a Sherlock Holmes) who is my second pair of eyes and provides all the photos and videos for my stories and Patricia Ward who does the layouts for the stories.
I want to wish all of my Christian friends a Merry Christmas and all my Jewish friends a Happy Chanukah! And all my other friends, All the Happiness and Joy of the Season!

And finally, I’m sure you would love to join me in wishing Piero, Ignazio and Gianluca and their families a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year with many Concerts!

Join me next week as I go back Through the Fields of My Mind and open the door to a new adventure!
If you would like to share a story with me, please email:  susan.flightcrew@yahoo.com
To read more Il Volo stories visit us at www.ilvoloflightcrw.com